Horse Racing
Magical mix of stunning talent on show in Japan’s top all-female affair

10/11/2022 17:18

Japan’s G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2200m) at Hanshin Racecourse is the top showcase race for fillies and mares aged three years old and up. Steeped in history, the race served unofficially as the Fillies’ Triple Crown finale before the G1 Shuka Sho’s (2000m) inauguration in 1996.

On Sunday (13 November), 18 horses will go to post for their chance at the winner’s prize of JPY130 million (approx. HK$6.9 million). The line-up is packed with talent and is shaping more like a Japan Cup than a race restricted to only fillies and mares.

There is also a very international vibe to the Queen Elizabeth II Cup’s 47th running, a vibe stronger even than recent Japan Cups. Six foreign riders are expected to take their place and Ireland’s Magical Lagoon is the first challenger from abroad in 11 years.

Trained by Mrs John Harrington, the Galileo-sired three-year-old is also the first G1 Irish Oaks (2400m) winner to take part in the race since England’s Snow Fairy, who dominated the Queen Elizabeth II Cup in consecutive renewals (2010 & 2011).

Untested over Japan’s turf, and racing for the first time after her fifth in the G1 Yorkshire Oaks (2371m), Magical Lagoon gave an impressive show Wednesday (9 November) under regular rider Shane Foley. Working over the Hanshin dirt course, she was asked to extend over the final 200m of a 1200m workout, responding with dynamic footwork that had Foley beaming afterwards and Japan’s trackmen taking note.

The wealth of talent in this weekend’s line-up is expected to see wagers in Japan spread across a dozen names and unlike the recent G1 Tenno Sho Autumn (2000m), the Queen Elizabeth II Cup is known to be something of an anything-can-happen contest.

Three names, however, are sure standouts – Stunning Rose, Daring Tact and Namur.

Stunning Rose is one of two three-year-olds from the stable of Tomokazu Takano. Second in G1 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, 2400m), she is yet to miss the board (and the money only twice) in her 10 outings so far, largely at Group-race level. This year, she has claimed four wins and one second from five starts. Stunning Rose is just off her first G1 win in the Shuka Sho on 16 October, a furlong shorter than Sunday’s test.

On Wednesday (9 November), working alone under an assistant to Takano up the Ritto hill course, she looked even better than she had before the Shuka Sho. With a form embodying momentum and stability, she was kept well in check while picking up speed over the last 400 metres, with a further increase in amps over the last 100 metres. Competing alongside older horses for the first time, Stunning Rose is looking very well-rehearsed for what could well be her second big victory.

Takano’s other hopeful is Namur, runner-up to Stunning Rose in the Shuka Sho. The Harbinger filly has also been a consistent performer, with five finishes in the top three from seven starts. Still chasing her first big victory, she has a 4-10-3-2 record in G1 races, and her most recent results in the 2000-2400m distance range bode well for Sunday. She, too, showed improvement in her work on Wednesday.

2020’s Fillies’ Triple Crown winner, Daring Tact, is one of 10 mares her age running in the race. Unlike her peers who have won at Stakes level this year (Izu Jo no Kiseki, Win Mighty, Kurino Premium, Terzetto and Ruby Casablanca), Daring Tact, third in last year’s G1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m) at Sha Tin, is 6-3-6 for the year. She returned after three months to take on the G2 All Comers (2200m) at Nakayama at the end of September but was heavy and finished over six lengths off the winner.  

Though the routine has always been for regular jockey Kohei Matsuyama to ride Daring Tact’s pre-race final work, trainer Haruki Sugiyama put an assistant up on Wednesday and Daring Tact looked in excellent shape.

Sugiyama said: “As she’s matured, her ‘on’ switch has become more pronounced.”

Accordingly, the Ritto-based trainer has decided to intersperse her hard workouts with the jockey with “quiet” workouts.

“With that, when the jockey is up for the race, she’ll be able to switch to a higher level,” Sugiyama said.