Two starts before her Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) heroics at Del Mar, Loves Only You defeated males in the Apr. 25 QEII Cup (G1) at Sha Tin. The Japanese mare now returns to the same course and about 1 1/4-mile distance in Sunday’s $3.8 million Hong Kong Cup (G1). But she must overcome a couple of dangerous compatriots, as well as classy European sophomores, in this grand finale of the Hong Kong International Races (HKIR).
Hong Kong Cup (G1) – Race 8 (3:30 a.m.)
Loves Only You brought world-class form into her first Hong Kong foray, coming off a close third to Mishriff and Chrono Genesis in the Mar. 27 Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on World Cup night. The Yoshito Yahagi trainee duly obliged in the QEII Cup while capping a Japanese superfecta with Daring Tact, Glory Vase, and Kiseki.
Set for the Breeders’ Cup over the summer, Loves Only You used the Aug. 22 Sapporo Kinen (G2) as her launching pad to Del Mar. Her fast-finishing second to white starlet Sodashi had the desired effect, and in the Filly & Mare Turf, Loves Only You surged late for an historic Breeders’ Cup victory for Japan.
Yuga Kawada will once again guide the Deep Impact daughter in the Hong Kong Cup. He was also aboard for her Wednesday work on Sha Tin’s main oval, when Loves Only You signaled her well-being by blitzing her final quarter in :22.1.
Team Japan has won four of the last six runnings, including the past two in a row, and need not rely only on Loves Only You.
The progressive Hishi Iguazu capped a four-race winning spree in the Feb. 28 Nakayama Kinen (G2), then needed a lengthy break. Trainer Noriyuki Hori, who sent out two-time HKIR champion Maurice, brought him back in an ambitious spot—the Oct. 31 Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) – to prepare for this target. In the circumstances, Hishi Iguazu ran an excellent fifth to Efforia and next-out Japan Cup (G1) star Contrail, and projects a forward move with Joao Moreira.
Lei Papale was unbeatable in her first six starts, famously toppling Contrail et al in the Apr. 4 Osaka Hai (G1). But she was helped by being the controlling speed on yielding ground that day, and has subsequently dropped three straight going longer. The cutback in trip could help.
Although no European shipper has lifted the Cup for a decade, going back to Snow Fairy (2010), Aidan O’Brien has gone close the past two years. The master of Ballydoyle hopes to get Bolshoi Ballet back to winning form after a trio of losses. Out of luck since his workmanlike score in the July 10 Belmont Derby (G1), the Galileo colt likely failed to stay the distance when tiring to sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
British invader Dubai Honour, in contrast, enters on the upswing for William Haggas. The Pride of Dubai gelding rapidly climbed the ladder to capture the Prix Guillaume d’Ornano (G2) and Prix Dollar (G2), beating the older Magny Cours in the latter, and nearly added the Oct. 16 Champion (G1). Also exiting the Champion is Mac Swiney, who was an eye-catching third. Jim Bolger’s Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) hero has so far required rain-softened ground, though, to deliver his best.
The bulk of the Hong Kong home team prepped in the course-and-distance Jockey Club Cup (G2) Nov. 21. The bare result isn’t informative since Reliable Team stole a paceless race, after presumptive front-runner Ka Ying Star blew the start. Ka Ying Star eventually moved up into a pressing second, and missed by a nose. Glorious Dragon, sixth behind Loves Only You in the QEII Cup, was a closing third in the Jockey Club Cup.
But the arguably more intriguing contenders were further behind. Fifth-placer Russian Emperor won the 2020 Hampton Court (G3) in his former life for O’Brien, and after joining Douglas Whyte here, missed in photos in both the Hong Kong Classic Cup and Hong Kong Derby. The son of Galileo and Atlantic Jewel has had his problems since – hence his gelding operation – but it wouldn’t be a shock if he’s rounding back into form.
Panfield didn’t do himself justice in last of seven, perhaps a victim of “second-up syndrome” as well as the pace scenario. A triple Group 1 winner in his native Chile, under the name of Look Pen, Panfield was third in the Hong Kong Derby and secured champion stayer honors in the May 23 Champions & Chater Cup (G1). The Tony Millard pupil resumed with a win in the Oct. 17 Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy (G2), and can turn the page from the Jockey Club Cup with a more typical race shape on Sunday.
Tourbillon Diamond, in receipt of 19 pounds, edged Ka Ying Star in the Nov. 7 Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse H. (G3). Berlin Tango, 0-for-10 going shorter in Hong Kong, takes a substantial class hike from Class 2 handicaps. Yet the British import has back class from home as the 2020 Classic Trial (G3) scorer over Pyledriver, and the third to Russian Emperor at Royal Ascot, in his only tries at this trip. While Berlin Tango lacks the Hong Kong resume of multiple Group 1-placed stablemate Ka Ying Star, it’s tough to discount HKIR maestro Tony Cruz.