Bright amid the spectacular fall colors is this Sunday’s racing highlight – the 43rd running of the Queen Elizabeth II Cup. Kyoto Racecourse hosts the Grade 1 showcase for fillies and mares 3 years old and up, with 18 horses nominated for the turf competition run over the venue’s outer 2,200-meter course. The race pays JPY150 million to the winner and is a perennial favorite, pitting young talent and still budding talent against the experienced.
Two of this year’s hotshots – filly triple crown champion Almond Eye and the globe-trotting Deidre – have passed on the Queen Elizabeth II Cup for the Japan Cup and the Hong Kong Cup, respectively. In doing so, they have boosted the hopes of horsemen and fans. Will double-digit longshots drop jaws as they did in 2009? Or is this a rare year the favorite makes it home in first place?
Last year’s champion Mozu Katchan is back for another shot and Lys Gracieux, who has come frustratingly close so many times, is still gunning for her first Grade 1 win. The 3-year-old Normcore passed on the Shuka Sho and is looking promising, as are Cantabile and the bright new light Red Genova, runnerup in the Kyoto Daishoten.
In addition to the equine talent, four non-Japanese riders are expected to make the gate this year – Frenchman Christophe Lemaire, Brazil native Joao Moreira and brothers Cristian and Mirco Demuro of Italy – making the Queen Elizabeth II Cup a royally international affair.
Weights are set at 54kg for 3-year-olds, 56kg for older fillies and mares. It is the 11th race on the Sunday card of 12 at Kyoto. Post time is 15:40 local time. To The Victory holds the record with her time of 2:11.2 set in 2001. Here’s a look at the expected popular choices.
Mozu Katchan: The 4-year-old Mozu Katchan, one of four nominees by Harbinger, won her first Grade 1 with this race last year. She has failed to place first in her three starts since. Last out in the Sapporo Kinen (G2, 2,000 meters) on Aug. 19, she returned from 5 months off and made a late run from the rear to finish a very close third and with no time difference between her and winner Sungrazer, a 4-year-old colt who went on to finish second in the Oct. 28 Tenno Sho (Autumn). Mozu Katchan had to withdraw from the Fuchu Himba Stakes due to a fever and will be racing without a prep, but Ritto-based trainer Ippo Sameshima says, “She worked in tandem up the hill last week. The ground was slow but her movement was good.” Mirco Demuro is expected to have the ride, as he did last year.
Lys Gracieux, picture Japan Racing Association
Lys Gracieux: If there’s any horse that truly deserves to win a Grade 1 race, it’s Lys Gracieux, a 4-year-old by Heart’s Cry. In her 15 starts thus far, she has notched three wins, six seconds and three thirds. She has competed in Grade 1 events seven times and has finished second in four of them, missing out on victory by a total of only half a second. She made the trip from Ritto last out to take on the Fuchu Himba Stakes (G2, 1,800 meters) on Oct. 13 and was slow out of the gate, but, running under 54kg, finished in second place a neck behind Deirdre, who carried 2kg more. A filly that normally drops weight from traveling, this time Lys Gracieux kept it on and ran at 460kg, her heaviest by 10kg. The signs indicate she has blossomed. Her final 3-furlong time of 32.6 seconds also shows she has not sacrificed speed. Last year here, Lys Gracieux finished eighth, hampered by a slow break, her rear position and a slow pace. She is reported to be eating well and calm in morning work. Seven horses in the past 10 runnings have captured their first Grade 1 here and this may well be Lys Gracieux’s time to shine. Joao Moreira is slated for the ride.
Cantabile: A daughter of Deep Impact, the 3-year-old Cantabile has only missed the money once in her seven career starts. She jumped from her maiden to a Grade 3, aced that and took on the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks). That was a bust, but she followed it up with a win of the Grade 2 Rose Stakes in mid September. Last out, she finished third with a burst of speed in the Shuka Sho stretch that shot her up the field and threatened to take down Almond Eye had Cantabile not run out of ground. A slight filly at just over 430kg, Cantabile’s weight has not changed from her debut last December, but she is leaner and meaner and not to be ignored. She’ll also be asked to carry 1kg less than she did in the Shuka Sho. In addition to regular work, she has been given lots of exercise in the pool and she should be able to handle the extra furlong this time. Expected to be partnered with Cristian Demuro for the first time, hopes are high that, come Sunday, things will go swimmingly.
Normcore: A Harbinger-sired 3-year-old, the Miho-based Normcore has three wins and two thirds in her short 5-start career. Two for two as a 2–year-old, she returned this March after half a year off and, taking on two graded-stakes races – the Flower Cup (G3, 1,800 meters) and the Floral Stakes (G2, 2,000 meters) – finished third in both. Four-and-a-half months later she came back to win the Shion Stakes (G3, 2,000 meters) at Nakayama clocking 11.5-11.2 over the final 2 furlongs and beating runnerup Mau Lea, a filly with fifth-place finishes in both spring filly classics, to the line by 3 lengths. That win gave Normcore a pass to the Shuka Sho, but trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara took a raincheck to give her more time to recuperate. This will be Normcore’s first Grade 1 and her first race over longer than 2,000 meters. It will also be her first time at Kyoto, her first time to travel westward. That’s a lot of firsts, but expected to be in the saddle is Christophe Lemaire, who has won seven of the 20 JRA Grade 1 races so far this year. Normcore should be in the best of hands.
Red Genova: A 4-year-old by Symboli Kris S, Red Genova has proven highly consistent, with five wins in 14 starts and only four of them out of the top three spots. Showing great improvement this year, she has moved slowly up in class and this will be her first Grade 1 bid. Last out, she took on her first graded-stakes race in the Kyoto Daishoten (G2, 2,400 meters) on Oct. 8 and finished only 1/2 length behind Satono Diamond. Japan Cup winner Grand Cheval also finished behind her in fourth. Red Genova was unable to make a move turning for home, and had she been able to, things may have turned out differently (although in all fairness, Satono Diamond was racing under 3kg more and coming off a 3-month layoff and Grand Cheval had yet 1kg more to contend with and it was his first race in five months). Still, Red Genova has shown she can hold her own and is expected to have improved. She is based at Miho, but her trainer Shigeyuki Kojima, who has two wins of this race, has kept her stabled at Ritto both before and after the Kyoto Daishoten.
Those seeking a higher return may want to look at Admire Lead, being given more distance and expected to improve after her Fuchu Himba Stakes run. Frontier Queen, third in the same race, has run second in all her five starts before that, three of them Grade 2 races. The Ritto-based Crocosmia was runner-up here last year and though her best in her four starts since then was a fifth last out in the Fuchu Himba Stakes, a return to Kyoto is surely a plus.