Japan’s Queens Ring will line up in the HK$25 million Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m) tomorrow, Sunday, 11 December, the only filly in a class-packed field of 12. Should she prevail, the in-form four-year-old would be the sixth female to claim the showpiece contest but the first since Snow Fairy back in 2010.
Queens Ring is by Manhattan Cafe, the Japan Racing Association’s (JRA) champion older horse in 2002, and was bred at Shadai Farm, one of the biggest breeding and training operations in Japan.
“When I saw her for the first time in Shadai Farm three years ago, I thought she had a very beautiful face and good conformation,” said trainer Keiji Yoshimura, who received his JRA trainer’s licence in 2011.
“I thought she was a very good filly with good balance, neither too big nor too small. When she was at the farm, she had some stiffness and lacked flexibility.But she has never had that issue since she came to my stable.
“She is a May foal, so I did not want to give her too much work at first. After passing the starting gate test, I sent her back to the pre-training farm near Ritto Training Centre to prepare for her debut. When she returned to the training centre in the middle of that October, her movement showed dramatic change.”
Queens Ring won a maiden race (1800m, turf) by two and a half lengths at Nakayama in December 2014 and stepped up to win a lower-class stakes race (1600m, turf) in January 2015.
Yoshimura said: “The second consecutive win gave me a lot of confidence, and it confirmed to me that she would be able to compete in higher class.”
In the Group 2 Fillies’ Revue over 1400m on turf at Hanshin that March – one of the important prep races for the fillies’ classics – she put together a brilliant stretch run from behind to clinch her and Yoshimura’s first Graded race title.
Fourth in the Oka Sho (1600m), Japan’s 1,000 Guineas, and ninth in the Oaks, the Yushun Himba (2400m), she then took second in the third three-year-old filly’s classic, the Group 1 Shuka Sho (2000m). Queens Ring rounded out her three-year-old campaign by running eighth in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2200m).
A versatile perfomer, the filly has won from 1400m to 2200m on going ranging from firm to yielding. This season she has a record of three wins from five starts, opening with a Group 3 score in February. Not seen again until a fair eighth to Straight Girl in May’s Group 1 Victoria Mile, she took on male rivals for the first time since her debut when second in the Listed Yonago Stakes (1600m) a month later.
But Queens Ring really began to flourish when she returned from a summer break for a late-season campaign. First she took the Group 2 Fuchu Himba (1800m) at Tokyo and in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup last month she unleashed a brilliant burst of speed, surged between horses and shook off the runner-up just before the wire for a neck win. That latter effort stamped her as a potential champion distaffer; it also mirrored the path Snow Fairy took to her Hong Kong Cup triumph six years ago.
“Right after the race, the owner (Chizu Yoshida) gave me the idea to send her to the Hong Kong Cup, and I confirmed that she had no issue with her condition, so after the race we decided to enter at the second stage,” said Yoshimura.
Her regular rider, the Italian champion Mirco Demuro, received his full-term jockey licence from the JRA last year and claimed an 18th Group 1 win in Japan with Queens Ring’s QEII success.
“She is a very smart horse and strong mentally. She has a brilliant turn of foot,” he said.
Queens Ring has looked settled at track work this week, having travelled to Hong Kong without a fuss, and has adapted well to her new surroundings. And even though she has drawn outside in gate 11 of 12, Yoshimura remains optimistic.
“She raced well from outer barriers in Japan, and Mirco has been riding her for a long time,” he said. “Mirco knows her and Hong Kong racing very well. I trust the pair and will leave the strategy to him.
“I would like to thank the Hong Kong Jockey Club for providing us a great opportunity and all the people for supporting us. The Hong Kong International Races is a global event and the racing is top class with many good horses and jockeys gathering. It is a great honour to be here.”