Japanese trainer Yoshito Yahagi brought the colour and flair to an otherwise mundane barrier draw on Thursday morning and he is hoping his talented mare Lys Gracieux can do the same on the racetrack come Sunday.
Yahagi was unmissable during the week, sporting a giant cowboy hat with bleached white jeans, and he knows he has the horse to back up his confident swagger.
Lys Gracieux was only narrowly beaten in December’s Hong Kong Vase (2,400m) and returns a better horse for the HK $24 million FWD QE II Cup (2,000m).
Yahagi said a plan was hatched immediately after December’s narrow defeat at the hands of Exultant to return to Sha Tin and leave with the Group One prize.
“Right after she ran in the Hong Kong International Races last year, we decided to come here for the QE II,” he said.
“She has a very big advantage because this is her second time here and she travelled over here by herself which was a bit concerning but she was OK and did well. There is a lot of confidence from us this time around.”
On that occasion, Hong Kong rider Joao Moreira was in the saddle but Yahagi has called on the services of 23-year-old Irishman Oisin Murphy.
While Moreira stormed home from near-last during the 2,400m trip of the Hong Kong Vase, Yahagi said he anticipated his five-year-old to be much closer this time around from barrier four.
“It’s not too short, it is a sweet distance. A mile and a half is too long so 2,000m it better than 2,400m,” he said.
“She will maybe settle in the middle, it will be closer to the front than what she was in December.”
Yahagi remains wary of the threat from local Hong Kong horses Exultant and Glorious Forever but it is fellow Japanese raider Deirdre that has him most concerned.
“Among the Japanese horses, Deirdre is the biggest danger and most competitive horse,” he said.
The Mitsuru Hashida mare has drawn barrier five and returns to Hong Kong after also running second on international day behind Glorious Forever in the Hong Kong Cup (2,000m).
After finishing third in last year’s Derby, Exultant has gone on to become the premier stayer in Hong Kong.
The Tony Cruz-trained five-year-old has won three straight races, including two Group One’s, and a trip to Japan beckons if he can maintain his form.
Cruz has put the Group One Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin on the radar in an attempt to find more races for his star galloper.
Next year’s Dubai World Cup meeting is also on the cards after Cruz was left to lament what might have been had he travelled last month.
“Exultant won the [Group One] Gold Cup [2,000m]about two months ago so that is a bit of a long lay off so next season we will look elsewhere because two months between runs is too long,” he said.
Cruz said barrier six for Exultant would give him the gun run in the race, while he expects his other runner Time Warp to lead from barrier 10.
“I am very happy with gate six for Exultant because it puts him smack bang in the middle which is perfect for him, he wont get trapped on the inside,” he said. “I have no complaints about the barrier draw.”
Meanwhile, trainer John Size believes his beaten Derby favourite Waikuku can feature in the prize money come Sunday.
“He’s a little bit disadvantage as far as ratings are concerned – the international Group One winners are far superior to him on paper but our four-year-olds have always acquitted themselves well in this event,” he said