Japan: Trio Of Grade 1 Winners Line Up For Sunday’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup

This week’s top racing action moves from Tokyo to western Japan and the Sunday, Nov. 15 Queen Elizabeth II Cup.

Unlike other years, the Yodo fall tradition will be held, not at Kyoto Racecourse, but at Hanshin, due to the massive renovation under way at the former. It’s not the first time the all-female Grade 1 will be held at Hanshin. Hanshin hosted the 2,200-meter turf competition back in 1979, the year the current Kyoto grandstand was built.

This year marks the 45th running of the Queen Elizabeth II Cup. The race, which used to serve as the final leg of the filly triple crown, was opened to older females in 1996, and since then, first prize has gone to a 3-year-old only eight times. This year, 19 fillies and mares aged 3 to 5 have been nominated to fill the race’s 18 berths.

There are three Grade 1 winners in the mix – last year’s champion Lucky Lilac, 2019 Japanese Oaks winner Loves Only You and the 2019 Victoria Mile victor Normcore. Youth figures strongly in this year’s field. Six youngsters are set to go up against the formidable older ladies, and though none of the 3-year-olds are Grade 1 winners, participating will be this year’s Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) runner-up Win Marilyn and third-place finisher Win Mighty, as well as the third-place finisher in the Shuka Sho, Soft Fruit.

The difference in venues, however, will make study of past results largely moot. The courses are similarly shaped and at both the race starts far to the right of the grandstand. Races are also run to the right at both Kyoto and Hanshin (the inner and outer course, respectively), but there are marked differences in their respective 2,200-meter courses.

At Hanshin, the distance to the first turn is more than half a furlong longer than at Kyoto, allowing for more room to maneuver from the break. And, the track is downhill, resulting in faster first lap times. At Kyoto there is a significant backstretch upgrade, which causes speed to pick up as the track drops turning out of the backstretch and disadvantage horses on the outside around the turn and into the straight.

Additionally, at Hanshin, there is a slight hill just before the finish line that starts 200 meters out and rises two meters over about 150 meters.

Also, rather than a brilliant final burst of speed, the Hanshin 2,200 (its most notable race being the Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen) tends more to favor horses who can run at a good steady speed over a long distance. But the homestretch is shorter than Kyoto’s and adds to the fun.

Here’s a look at some standouts:

Lucky Lilac – A big chestnut like her sire Orfevre, Lucky Lilac is expected to be the favorite Sunday. Highly consistent, the 5-year-old mare suffered her only finish out of Top 3 since spring 2019 in this year’s Takarazuka Kinen. She had won the Grade 1 Osaka Hai over the Hanshin 2,000 meters before that and last out, in the Grade 2 Sapporo Kinen, she finished third after racing in second position and leaving herself open to studied attack. Lucky Lilac was runnerup in the last year’s Hong Kong Vase and, amid all-female competition, will be a hard one to beat. The relatively long time between races, however, is a concern. “She went to the farm after her last race and was back at Ritto on Oct. 9,” says trainer and former jockey Mikio Matsunaga, “but she didn’t quite meet expectations in her work Nov. 4, though still moved well. She has come along well though and this time, I think it’ll be ideal if she can hold back and race from midfield like she did last year.”

Loves Only You – The 4-year-old Loves Only You, by Deep Impact, finished third here last year and had preceded that six months earlier with a win of the Japanese Oaks. This year, she was already in Dubai when racing was cancelled and started the year with the Grade 1 Victoria Mile and a seventh-place result. Though she won a 1-win class race over the distance, the mile has never been her best. The Victoria Mile was followed with a second in the Grade 3 Naruo Kinen at Hanshin, after which she returned a full 12 kg heavier nearly four months later to take on her first heavy track, resulting in a fifth-place finish in the Oct. 17 Grade 2 Fuchu Himba Stakes. Improvement is expected. Trainer Yoshito Yahagi is on a roll this year and looking to scoop his fifth Grade 1 win of 2020.

Normcore – The Harbinger-sired 5-year-old Normcore beat the boys and topped the field in the Sapporo Kinen last start and put 2 1/2 lengths between her and Lucky Lilac in doing so. Though most of her recent outings have been over the mile, including a 4th-place finish in this year’s Yasuda Kinen only 0.1 seconds behind Almond Eye and her record win of the Victoria Mile in 2018, Normcore has scored two of her career six wins over 10 furlongs. She was fifth here in 2018. As a half-sister to Chrono Genesis (runnerup in this year’s Osaka Hai and winner of the Takarazuka Kinen), Normcore should find the 2,200 meters within her grasp. Trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara plans to ship his mare in from the east early. “I want to make the trip to Hanshin on Thursday or Friday. I really want her to land another Grade 1.” The 52-year-old Norihiro Yokoyama is expected to be in the saddle and is gunning for his first win of the race since 1990, a feat that would set a JRA record for a jockey’s longest span between wins of the same Grade 1.

Salacia – Another 5-year-old and daughter of Deep Impact, Salacia won her first graded-stakes race with victory in the Grade 2 Fuchu Himba Stakes. Her third bid at the Grade 1 level, Salacia finished a close sixth here last year, only 0.4 seconds behind Lucky Lilac. Her four wins from 18 starts have come at 1,600-1,800 meters and she is 4-4-3-6-9 in contests 2,000 meters and up. However, the switch to Hanshin, with its shorter homestretch will be a plus for Salacia. On the other hand, a strike against her is that she has never win amid a big field. Excluding her debut win, her other three wins have come in fields numbering 10, 12 and 8. And, in her five starts with 17 or more in the lineup, she has never fared better than fourth place.

Win Marilyn – A 3-year-old by Screen Hero, Win Marilyn returned after a five-month layoff following her second in the Japanese Oaks to disappoint with a 15th place in the Shuka Sho on Oct. 18. Her three wins from four starts before the Oaks were all over 2,000 meters, and considering that it was her first time to ship west, that she was up 12 kg, and the fact that she’ll carry 2 kg less than the mares and be well prepped to run, Win Marilyn is not one to overlook.

Others to watch are: The 3-year-old Soft Fruit was third in the Shuka Sho after pre-race tensions, a slow break, and having to cover extra ground going into the stretch. She finished only 0.3 seconds behind Daring Tact, who clinched the filly triple crown. A better trip could stand her well. Fourth here last year, Centelleo won her first graded-stakes race and her second race over the distance last out in the Grade 2 Sankei Sho All Comers at Nakayama 2,200-meter in a field that included Curren Bouquetd’or, runnerup in the 2019 Japan Cup. Win Mighty is 1-3-6-9 at 2,000 meters and up and was slow out of the gate the last two starts. Her win was over the Hanshin 2,000 meter on a slightly heavy track. If she can break sharply, she may be able to improve her score.

The post Japan: Trio Of Grade 1 Winners Line Up For Sunday’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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