It was filly Almond Eye that captured the top-level prize at Tokyo on Oct. 27, and this week again the girls are sure to take home the money. Grade 1 action moves to Kyoto for the 44th running of the all-female Queen Elizabeth II Cup on Sunday, Nov. 10.
The QE2 is a 2,200-meter Grade 1 turf event at the right-handed Kyoto Racecourse open to fillies and mares 3 years old and up. It's a perennial favorite that carries a JPY105 million winner's prize and a total purse of nearly JPY227 million.
Originally for 3-year-old fillies only, the race was opened to older female horses from 1996 and became an international race three years later. Though no foreign-based entrants have been nominated this year, they have shone bright in the past, the brightest being Snow Fairy from England, who won the race in 2010 and came back in 2011 to win it again.
Nineteen fillies and mares ranging in age from 3 to 6 have been nominated this year and 18 will go to the gate Sunday. Current headliners in the lineup are two youngsters, the unbeaten Grade 1 Japanese Oaks champion Loves Only You, who is gunning to become only the second 3-year-old filly to capture the race unbeaten, and Chrono Genesis, just off a win of the Grade 1 Shuka Sho. They will see how they measure up to the older, more experienced runners, including veterans of the race back again for their second or even third time.
It's not easy finding the winner in the QE2, at least not for those who like to back the favorite. In the past 23 runnings since the race was opened to older horses, only four favorites have made it to the winner's circle. Nonetheless, the favorite has figured in the top three finishers for seven of the past 10 runnings and Grade 1 winners have won for the last five years straight.
Older fillies and mares will carry 56kg, 3-year-olds run under 54kg. The Queen Elizabeth II Cup is the 11th race on Kyoto's Sunday card of 12 races. Post time is 15:40 local time. Here are some of the expected top choices.
Chrono Genesis : The 3-year-old daughter of Bago returned last out on Oct. 13 from her third-place finish in the Japanese Oaks and scooped her first Grade 1 victory (after three previous bids) with a splendid run in the 2,000-meter Shuka Sho at Kyoto. Yet to figure out of the top three finishers in her seven starts thus far, the Shuka Sho was her longest win thus far, but she lost the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) by only 0.4 seconds to Loves Only You and an extra furlong is considered well within her reach. She'll meet older horses for the first time and be up against rival Loves Only You, who sat out the Shuka Sho, but Chrono Genesis is a different horse from the spring. She was much calmer in the Shuka Sho, and no energy was wasted making a fuss in the preliminaries. "She matured over the summer and, because of that, we were able to give her a lot of work, which was a big factor in her win of the Shuka Sho," Ritto-based trainer Takashi Saito said. "She's kept her condition and I think with the race being an all-female one, she should be able to hold her own against the older horses."
Loves Only You : Debuting late last year, the Deep Impact-sired Loves Only You swept the first three races of her career and leapt from the lower ranks to the Grade 1 level on her fourth start to capture the Japanese Oaks (2,400m, Tokyo) on May 19. She was the first horse to win the Classic with so few prior starts. Hoof trouble, however, reared its head while she was at the farm and forced her to sit out the Shuka Sho, which Yoshito Yahagi (trainer of last year's QE2 winner Lys Gracieux) had planned as her prep. Work has been ample, as her now-stable appetite has given her the energy to take on an increased workload. Mirco Demuro gave her a hard workout over seven furlongs on Oct. 30 and found her improved but still "a bit heavy," but moving well. "Her wind is good and with her work this week she should be ready," assistant trainer Shigeki Miyauchi said.
Lucky Lilac : Four-year-old Lucky Lilac, who takes after her sire Orfevre in both color and bulk, weighed in for her QE2 prep Oct. 14 at a hefty 522kg. She finished nearly two lengths off the winner in third place in that race, the Fuchu Himba Stakes (G2, 1,800m, Tokyo), a promising result considering it was her first race in five months. Lucky Lilac swept her three starts as a 2-year-old (all over the mile), including the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, but has failed to make the winner's circle since early 2018. Raced primarily in the range of 1,600-1,800 meters, the extra distance may be what she is looking for. The 2,200 meters is certainly within her reach considering her pedigree and as indicated by her third-place finish in the Oaks last year. Her time in work Oct. 30 was excellent, 78.3 seconds over six furlongs. "Her movement was good and I expect that to sharpen her up more than adequately," trainer Mikio Matsunaga said.
Scarlet Color : A 4-year-old filly by Victoire Pisa, Scarlet Color came from far off the rear and claimed the Fuchu Himba Stakes (1,800m, G2) last out for her third win in 15 career starts. It was her fourth finish in the top three in four starts straight this year, three of them at the graded-stakes level. She has visibly put on muscle and is up a good 30kg since last autumn. Her last two starts saw her clock 33.2 seconds and 33.4 seconds over the final three furlongs, late speed that could serve her well in the long stretch of the Kyoto outer 2,200 meters. Her longest distance to date has only been 2,000 meters, with a best third-place finish in the Grade 3 Mermaid Stakes at Hanshin in June. Distance will be a concern but trainer Ryo Takahashi, hoping for his first big win, said, "With the late speed she's been showing recently, I'm looking forward to it."
Crocosmia : A close second here both last year and the year before, the 6-year-old Crocosmia returns for her third bid and looking for that little bit more that will get her over the line a winner. Since her third in the Victoria Mile this spring, this daughter of Stay Gold has scored a seventh in the Sapporo Kinen (G2, 2,000m) and a fifth last out in the Fuchu Himba Stakes, which was the same as her result in the prep race last year. Often the pacesetter in her races through last year, Crocosmia has raced from a bit further back in her five starts this year but is still considered well in the running for the money.
Among other horses of interest is Uranus Charm, with a 4th, 2nd, 4th, 7th from her last four starts, all graded stakes. It will be her first Grade 1 but she is experienced at longer distance and her bid in the Kyoto Daishoten up against older male horses proved her to be competitive. Based at Miho Training Center, she has been stabled at Ritto in preparation for this race. Another interesting prospect is Frontier Queen, seventh here last year after finishing third in the Fuchu Himba Stakes. Had she gotten a clear stretch run in the QE2 last year, she'd likely have done better. This year the same rotation brought her a second in the Fuchu Himba Stakes and improvement is expected.