A captivating edition of the HK$20 million Group 1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2000m) on Sunday, 30 April at Sha Tin racecourse is set to feature nine contenders from five international jurisdictions, with last year’s champion facing a clutch of rising stars.
Werther was an emphatic winner from top-class rivals in 2016 and will line up once again: this time the challengers will include one of Japan’s smartest talents, Neorealism, as well as the classic-placed Dicton from France, Mubtaahij from the UAE, Australia’s The United States and one of Hong Kong’s new poster boys, Pakistan Star.
Mr. Anthony Kelly, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Executive Director, Racing Business and Operations, said: “We are pleased that this season’s Audemars Piguet QEII Cup has once again attracted high calibre horses from around the world. This is the 19th year of the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s collaboration with Audemars Piguet and the success of that partnership can be seen in this year’s edition of the great race, which is, as usual, a world-class event.
“Hong Kong racing offers some of the most lucrative Group 1 purses in the world and it is fitting that this HK$20million contest has attracted top-class horses from Japan, France, the UAE and Australia. Among those overseas raiders are some exciting emerging talents from Japan and Europe, and that is an enthralling plot line to this year’s race, with Hong Kong’s own rising prodigy, Pakistan Star, seeking a first Group 1 win at his first attempt. But they will all have to reach a new peak to see off Werther if the defending champ turns up in the same form as when winning last year’s APQEII. All signs are that we are in for a treat on Sunday, 30 April.”
Werther, one of four G1 winners in the field, earned a rating of 124 for his impressive APQEII Cup win last season and ranked among the world’s top five turf horses. Trainer John Moore’s star missed the first part of this season due to an injury setback but returned to win the G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup at the course and distance in February.
Pakistan Star has earned a worldwide following thanks to his thrilling last-to-first style. The Tony Cruz-trained Shamardal gelding was a closing second to fellow crack four-year-old Rapper Dragon in the BMW Hong Kong Derby at the course and distance in March and is shooting for a G1 breakthrough at his first attempt in the grade.
Japan has captured the Cup three times previously, most recently in 2012 when Rulership powered to victory, and this year’s contest will feature the exciting Neorealism. The lightly-raced six-year-old is another late-blooming talent from the stable of champion trainer Noriyuki Hori, successful at Sha Tin in recent times with Satono Crown and the outstanding Maurice.
Neorealism defeated Maurice by two lengths in last August’s G2 Sapporo Kinen (2000m) and was on the mark again in that grade when making a winning seasonal return in February’s G2 Nakayama Kinen (1800m). The Neo Universe entire already has valuable Sha Tin experience: after a close third behind Mikki Isle in the G1 Mile Championship at Kyoto in November, the chestnut headed to Hong Kong for the G1 Hong Kong Mile in December but was below his best at his final start of the campaign when ninth behind Beauty Only.
France won the APQEII Cup in 1999 with Jim And Tonic and another classy French contender this time is the Gianluca Bietolini-trained Dicton, third in two classics last year behind The Gurkha in the G1 Poule d’Essai des Poulains (1600m) and European Champion Almanzor in the G1 Prix du Jockey Club (2100m). The Robert Ng-owned four-year-old was second to Jimmy Two Times on his seasonal return in the G3 Prix Edmond Blanc (1600m).
Trainer Mike de Kock is seeking a third APQEII Cup win having triumphed in 2006 and 2008 with Irridescence and Archipenko. The latter sported the yellow and blue colours of Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum and this time Mubtaahij will carry those silks.
The talented five-year-old has mixed it with some of world horseracing’s biggest names, having run fourth to American Pharoah in the 2015 G1 Belmont Stakes and, in the past two editions of the G1 Dubai World Cup, second to California Chrome and fourth to Arrogate.
The United States is in the top strata of Australia’s middle-distance competitors; the Robert Hickmott-trained entire landed his biggest win to date in the G1 Ranvet Stakes (2000m) last year. The Galileo seven-year-old added to his haul in October’s G2 Crystal Mile and was last seen in fourth behind the great mare Winx in the G1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) at Randwick on 8 April.
The field features three past winners in total. As well as Werther, the 2014 winner and former Hong Kong Horse of the Year Designs On Rome, also from the Moore stable, will take his place, as will the Tony Cruz-trained Blazing Speed, successful in 2015 and third last year.
The Hong Kong contingent also includes the Dennis Yip-trained seven-year-old Secret Weapon, successful in this season’s G2 Jockey Club Cup and second to Maurice in December’s Hong Kong Cup, both at the course and distance.
First staged to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s official visit to Hong Kong in 1975, the APQEII Cup attained international G1 status in 2001. The race was opened to international competitors for the first time in 1995.