QE II Cup overflows with talent

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 March, 2005, 12:00am

Alexander Goldrun heads star-studded list, including top Down Under entries

The $14 million Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup on April 24 promises to be the strongest on record, with the Hong Kong Jockey Club yesterday announcing an impressive first-stage entry list.

Ciaran Kennelly, the Jockey Club's head of handicapping, race planning and international racing, was 'extremely optimistic' after receiving a high-quality entry from the northern hemisphere, including the Hong Kong Cup heroine Alexander Goldrun, as well as the strongest-ever commitment from Down Under.

The most interesting nomination is Germany's Epalo, the 2004 World Series Racing champion, who was ruled out of the December international meeting at the 11th hour when he failed to please trainer Andreas Schutz in his final gallop. Epalo, owned by Gary Tanaka and winner of the Singapore Airlines International Cup last May, is one of three entries from the Schutz stable.

Australia's two best racehorses at the present time, Grand Armee and Elvstroem, are both there, and Grand Armee underlined his credentials emphatically at Rosehill racecourse in Sydney yesterday, winning the group one Ranvet Stakes by 81/2 lengths, eased down.

'I stayed in the office to watch the race on Sky Channel and Grand Armee could not have been more impressive,' said Mark Player, the club's new recruit, whose primary responsibility has been the upgrading of the participation level from top southern hemisphere horses in Hong Kong.

'He's right back to the form he showed when winning the Mackinnon Stakes last spring in Melbourne, and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes in Sydney last autumn. He looks a perfect horse for the race.'

Player went out on a limb and predicted 'at least six internationals, and all group one winners' will descend on Hong Kong for the springtime middle-distance extravaganza, which hold a special place as the first leg of the World Racing Series for 2005.

The QE II boasts a wonderful history already, with a list of winners that includes superstars like Jim And Tonic, London News and Eishin Preston. Last year's race was a local triumph, with Jockey Club chairman Roland Arculli's River Dancer defeating Elegant Fashion.

However, the level of international representation has been below par for the past two years, with Sars being the primary obstacle in 2003 and last year's international participation was just disappointing.

The QE II received a further boost yesterday with the result of the weight-for-age Darley Stakes (2,000m) at Te Rapa in New Zealand.

The group one race was won by unbeaten three-year-old Xcellent at the expense of the country's best older horse, St Reims. Both are QE-II nominees.

'St Reims has been confirmed for some time now and we are hopeful of getting Xcellent as well,' Player said. 'I'd really love to get these classic three-year-olds [Xcellent and Savabeel] to participate because the race would be perfect for them.

'We saw with Alexander Goldrun in December that an autumn three-year-old is very well suited under the weight-for-age conditions.'