Japanese globetrotter Loves Only You has capped off her sensational career with a fairy-tale victory in Sunday’s Group One Longines Hong Kong Cup (2,000m).
Yoshito Yahagi’s five-year-old mare has enjoyed an exceptional 2021 travelling the globe and was all the rage for the HK$30 million contest – the city’s richest race – as she chased a third Group One success from her past four starts.
With April’s QE II Cup and last month’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf already under her belt – plus a third in the Dubai Sheema Classic, and a win and a second at Group Two level back home – Loves Only You started a $2.6 favourite in her final run before moving onto the next phase of her career and becoming a broodmare.
While jockey Yuga Kawada gave her a beautiful run in transit – she settled one-out, one-back – there were some nervous moments when they were crowded for room in the early parts of the straight.
But Loves Only You showed her grit, lifting under pressure and taking a narrow gap to overhaul Russian Emperor before fighting off the challenge of compatriot Hishi Iguazu to prevail by a short-head.
It was a fitting way to crown a career that has netted eight wins – with four at Group One level including the 2019 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) – and five placings from 16 starts.
Kawada, who has been one of Japan’s leading jockeys for more than a decade, was effusive in his praise for the daughter of Deep Impact.
“She’s the best female horse I’ve ever ridden,” he said. “I’m really proud [of the win]. She jumped well but the pace was a bit slow. She relaxed well and then I was able to get a good position.
“She’s given me two big presents [with her wins in her past two runs]. I hope she will be a good mother.”
With Yahagi not making the trip, stable representative Yusaku Oka took the stage and was delighted with the result and hopeful the team will be back for more.
“I’m so glad to win this race for our trainer, who is watching on in Japan,” Oka said. “She won the Breeders’ Cup very well and in the spring she came over here and had a good result, so we were always confident she would run well.
“She’s got a good pedigree so we’re looking forward to what she does [in the next stage of her career].
“We have a lot of quite good horses in the stable so we hope we will be back here [in Hong Kong] with them in the future.”
It was a terrific run from Hishi Iguazu ($5.80), Joao Moreira settling second last before sweeping around the field and falling narrowly short.
At the top of the straight it looked like Douglas Whyte was going to snare his first Group One win as a trainer as Russian Emperor burst to the front, but he couldn’t quite maintain the rage in the latter stages as he was overhauled by the Japanese pair. It was still a huge effort to finish third at $24.
British raider Dubai Honour also finished off nicely to finish fourth, beaten a length and a quarter.
“He ran super and ran fantastic, [he kept coming] to the line,” jockey Tom Marquand said.
Of the other internationals, Lei Papale was sixth, with Christophe Soumillon saying “she ran good but was a bit unlucky at the turn”.
Coolmore’s Bolshoi Ballet came ninth, while jockey Kevin Manning couldn’t come up with a reason for Mac Swiney’s failure, the Irish visitor rounding out the field.
“He ran bad, no reason and too bad to be true,” he said.