QEII manages to attract just four internationals
The Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth Cup is barely hanging on to its international description after a disappointing roll call of foreign horses for the HK$14 million race in 16 days.
In the media conference at Happy Valley yesterday, movie star Louis Koo was inexplicably in attendance to construct a summer cocktail branded 'Mr Kool' and it would have been no surprise if Jockey Club officials called for something stronger as the prospect looms of a bare minimum of overseas participation in the Group One race.
Aidan O'Brien-trained Treasure Beach is the headliner of the four overseas entrants. He is an Irish Derby winner and Epsom Derby runner-up as a three-year-old and ran a first-up Sheema Classic fourth to Cirrus Des Aigles in Dubai in his only start this year.
Rulership, trained by Japan's wizard overseas raider Katsuhiko Sumii, is a triple Group Two winner who has finished just behind the placegetters in several Group One attempts. However, he has been racing well in Japan lately.
French seven-year-old Chinchon, from the top yard of Carlos Laffon-Parias, is invited for a third time to the QE II after finishing fourth to Presvis three years ago at his only start in the race The Mike De Kock-trained Viscount Nelson completes the set, coming off his minor placing in the Godolphin Mile on Dubai World Cup night.
Executive director of racing Bill Nader put a positive spin on the announced runners, saying: 'I am pleased with the calibre of horses we have. To have our established champion, Ambitious Dragon, going up against Fay Fay and his fellow rising stars of the Hong Kong scene is an intriguing prospect in itself; to also have international Group One performers like Treasure Beach, Rulership and Chinchon in the mix is particularly satisfying from the standpoint of this being a renowned global event.'
Yet the history of the QE II is that not all of those runners will make it to the day, and O'Brien has been a reluctant visitor.
Twelve months ago, the O'Brien-trained Cape Blanco, owned in the same interests as Treasure Beach, was the highest-rated invitee on a figure of 126. Within 24 hours, Cape Blanco was withdrawn when connections preferred to run in the Prix Ganay at Longchamps on the same day for a fraction of the prize-money.
The QE II Cup will clash with the Prix Ganay again this year, so the potential for a change of heart with Treasure Beach looms once more, particularly given O'Brien's poor Hong Kong record. The master of Ballydoyle has brought only seven runners to Sha Tin in the past 71/2 years, with Powerscourt's Hong Kong Cup fourth in 2004 his best result.
The scarcity of overseas visitors aside, the key interest looks to be the clash of the Derby principals, Fay Fay, Same World and Sweet Orange, with established top-line 2,000m gallopers Ambitious Dragon, California Memory and Irian - first, second and fourth in the 2011 QE II Cup - and Thumbs Up.
Even that has question marks, with Ambitious Dragon emerging from his Dubai Duty Free failure with a fever and doubts over California Memory's well-being after one of his worst performances in the same race.
David von Gunten, Hong Kong and China chief executive of Audemars Piguet, said the luxury watchmaker had signed on for another three years as sponsor which will stretch its relationship with the QE II to 17 years.