Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) - Preview

Grade 1 action returns to Kyoto Racecourse for the next two weeks, with the first of the Japan Autumn International Series of races in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup on Sunday, Nov. 12. The race is for fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up, and is run over 2,200 meters on the outer turf track at Kyoto. There are 22 fillies and mares nominated for a maximum field of 18, and the defending champion, Queens Ring, is back for another try.

The race was originally named the Victoria Cup, but after Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Japan in 1975, the following year it took on its current name. With the inaugural Grade 1 Shuka Sho introduced to the calendar in 1996, specifically for 3-year-old fillies, this opened up the Queen Elizabeth II Cup to older fillies and mares. The race then became an international Grade 1 in 1999. The great Snow Fairy won the race two years in a row in 2010 and 2011. There were six nominations from overseas this year, but finally the race has boiled down to a contest with Japanese contenders only.

Lead up races to this year’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup include the Grade 2 Ireland Trophy Fuchu Himba Stakes over 1,800 meters, Grade 2 Kyoto Daishoten over 2,400 meters, and the Grade 1 Shuka Sho over 2,000 meters, all these races being run in October. This Sunday’s race carries a winner’s check of 93 million yen, from a total purse of 200 million yen. The race has favored three and four year olds in the last decade, with each of those age groups winning four times apiece. Favorites, on the other hand, have been a bit scarcer, with just two obliging in the same time period. The race record time is held by To The Victory, who as a 5-year-old won in a time of 2 minutes, 11.2 seconds in 2001.

The 42nd running of the Queen Elizabeth II Cup will be Race 11 on the Sunday card at Kyoto, with a post time of 15:40 local time.

Queens Ring, picture Japan Racing Association

Here’s a look at some of the runners likely to figure in the market:

Vivlos: The 4-year-old filly by Deep Impact boosted her stature this year with a win in Dubai (Dubai Turf), and in her one run since, she finished second in the Grade 2 Ireland Trophy Fuchu Himba Stakes over 1,800 meters at Tokyo. She won the Grade 1 Shuka Sho in 2016, and boasts four wins from a 10-race career. Trainer Yasuo Tomomichi said, “It was a slow pace last time, but despite that she showed she was able to finish well, and there wasn’t much in it between her and the winner. She was coming off a layoff, and I think with that race under her, she’ll be fine.” Christophe Lemaire, who marked nine wins last weekend and extended his lead in the JRA jockey rankings, is scheduled to get the ride.

Mikki Queen: Another horse by Deep Impact, the 5-year-old mare also has an impressive race record. She’s only been unplaced three times in a 15-race career, which has included five wins and five seconds. This will be her ninth start in a Grade 1, and she’s coming off a third-place finish in this summer’s Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen over 2,200 meters at Hanshin. Trainer Yasutoshi Ikee said, “She came back to the stable from Northern Farm Shigaraki on Oct. 14, and there was no change in her condition. While working uphill recently, she was pretty good, and since her return, her footwork’s been good, and we can work on her from this point.” Ikee, who sits atop the JRA trainers rankings with 50 wins, will be looking for his first win in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup.

Deirdre: The recent winner of the Shuka Sho provided her sire, Harbinger, with his first JRA Grade 1 victory, and Deirdre seems to be a filly on the up. She has won her last three races, and even amongst the older horses here, you would ignore her at your peril. Trainer Mitsuru Hashida said, “Last time she was further back than I’d imagined in the race, but come the third corner, she picked up well, and down the home straight she put in a powerful run. I think the extra distance is a plus, and the ground is not a worry.” Deirdre has always been in the first three from five starts at Kyoto.

Rouge Buck: The 5-year-old mare seemed to be losing her edge a little until she won the Grade 2 Sankei Sho All Comers over 2,200 meters at Nakayama in her last race in September. That was her first win since the Grade 2 Mainichi Okan in 2016. Trainer Masahiro Otake commented: “In the All Comers, the pace was slow, but the jockey got her into a good early position, and it all went well from that. She hadn’t won for a while, so I think it was a big win. She came back to the stable on Oct. 19 after her usual stay at the farm to take away her tiredness.” Rouge Buck was fourth in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup in 2015 and is scheduled to be ridden by Ryan Moore.

Smart Layer: A horse that shows no sign of her age, the 7-year-old mare won in great style last time when winning the Grade 2 Kyoto Daishoten. What’s more she did it coming off a four-month break. This will be her ninth start in a Grade 1. Assistant training staff at the stable of trainer Ryuji Okubo said, “She really turned it on last time when winning the Kyoto Daishoten. It was an impressive performance. She’s had a break at the stable, and her recent work’s been good, with no sign of tiredness.”

Lys Gracieux: A 3-year-old filly that usually weighs around 430kgs, she nevertheless displays a lot of prowess in her races. Among her nine career starts, four of her races have been Grade 1s, and she finished second most recently in the Shuka Sho. The Heart’s Cry filly is trained by Yoshito Yahagi, who recently commented, “She did well last time by not giving in, particularly when the other horses were challenging, so I could take something from that.”

Crocosmia: The 4-year-old filly by Stay Gold is coming off a solid win when she led all the way to win the Grade 2 Ireland Trophy Fuchu Himba Stakes. She also won the time before at Sapporo in August. Assistant training staff at the stable of trainer Katsuichi Nishiura said, “She’s showing a lot of ability by being able to get to the front in her races, and then running with a good rhythm at her own pace.”

Queens Ring: The 5-year-old mare by Manhattan Cafe is looking for consecutive victories in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, and is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Ireland Trophy Fuchu Himba Stakes. The Shadai Farm-bred horse is trained by Keiji Yoshimura, who said recently, “Last time the horse next to her in the gate was agitated, and I think it affected her start. She ran on well down the outside at the finish, so I think overall it wasn’t a bad run.”