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  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 3:50pm

How to restore QE II Cup's lustre?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2012, 12:00am

We will find out more when the BMW Champions Mile invitees are announced today - and club officials are promising a best-ever tag for the race - but the Audemars Piguet QE II field definitely had a ring to it that Hong Kong in spring is finding it tougher to hold its place in the ever more competitive international racing calendar.

With just four QE II entries from overseas - and bear in mind it would be a rare international event that does not see drop-outs between now and April 29 - the race is under pressure as anything but a local feature.

It was further weakened yesterday, even from a local point of view, with the confirmation that Ambitious Dragon will switch to the Champions Mile and Same World will bypass it to concentrate on the Queen Mother Memorial instead.

It won't be the first time the QE II has been under pressure.

Without the support of people like Luca Cumani and Mike De Kock in recent years, both the Champions Mile and QE II would have battled for worthwhile numbers at all.

The QE II occupies a tough spot unless there is real demand for it from horses coming through Dubai.

With Australia's possibles engaged in the Sydney majors at this time, it has been a rare year with an early Easter when those horses have ever come here and even then they have come as an afterthought, an extension to an already-complete campaign. It showed too, and Australian runners are infrequent vistors for international events here at any time.

And it's usually the wrong place in the calendar for British or European-based horses to be looking overseas unless they are already up and running for Dubai.

For some horses, the QE II would mean bringing a horse from Europe which is short of top fitness and would compromise subsequent targets, and even for a fit horse it is a good question to be asking ahead of so much racing at home.

And then there is the question of whether Hong Kong's standards have made both the QE II and Champions Mile that much more unattractive, and the spring internationals have gone the way of the Japan Cup and just look too hard to win.

Going back to the December international meeting in 2007, there have been 36 international races here with 24 of them won by locals.

Take out the Hong Kong Vase which local stayers haven't won since 1998 and that score reads 31 internationals for 24 wins.

In the spring, that scoreline reads even tougher for anyone considering a visit but it wasn't always the way.

When the QE II was opened to international horses in 1995, it became, like the December internationals, a feast for foreign runners. Seven of the first nine runnings of the QE II were won by visitors, culminating with the three in a row for Germany's Silvano (2001) and Japan's Eishin Preston (2002 and 2003).

But that was the turning point and Hong Kong's horses started to punch back.

Hong Kong horses have won five of the eight QE II runnings since, and no foreign horse has ever won the Champions Mile, which was introduced as a domestic event in 2001 but opened to visitors in 2006.

When you're a horse owner in Europe looking at those stats, even the big prizemoney looks less attractive if you're thinking that the thick end of the prize will be elusive and turning up here at all can negatively impact other more attainable goals nearer to hand.

Last year highly rated Cape Blanco was invited but switched targets from the QE II to the Prix Ganay in Paris, despite that race being worth around HK$3.2 million - or not that much more than 20 per cent of the offering at Sha Tin.

Even Godolphin, once a strong supporter of the QE II, seems to look more towards Singapore these days and Kranji has been mentioned as a target for the World Cup winner, Monterosso.

Perhaps it's for the extra time to get over the strains of Dubai or perhaps with the knowledge that, if their runners had to take on Hong Kong's best, then maybe it would be better to do it on neutral soil.

It's not all about the money - and the Japan Cup, which once attracted the best on the planet but largely has to do with the second team these days, has shown definitively that it isn't.

And that leaves it a tough call to know how high quality visitors can be better attracted for the QE II and Champions Mile in their present position in the year.


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