Japan Autumn International kicks off with Queen Elizabeth II Cup

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

November 14th, 2015

The ladies go first in Japan’s Autumn International, with Sunday’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) at Kyoto serving as the opening act of the four-race festival. Kyoto also hosts the second stop, the November 22 Mile Championship (G1), while the scene shifts to Tokyo for the November 29 Japan Cup (G1), and the series concludes with the December 6 Champions Cup (G1) on dirt at Chukyo.

Defending QEII Cup champion Lachesis, who had been second to Meisho Mambo here in 2013, will try to become the first repeat winner since Snow Fairy (2010-11). Meisho Mambo seeks to become the first to regain her crown after losing it, but the omens are not encouraging: she’s gone 0-for-11 since her championship campaign.

Lachesis has competed against males ever since last year’s QEII Cup, so her ensuing 1-for-5 mark is more commendable than it may appear at first blush. Victorious over former Japanese champion colt Kizuna in the April 5 Sankei Osaka Hai (G2), the Deep Impact mare was most recently a closing fourth in the October 12 Kyoto Daishoten (G2). She was given a rather considerate ride in that prep, won by the streaking Lovely Day, who just added the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) to his record. Trained by Katsuhiko Sumii, Lachesis picks up all-world jockey Ryan Moore for her title defense.

Nuovo Record is following the same path Lachesis took a year ago, and hopes that the pattern holds to her advantage. The daughter of Heart’s Cry just missed to Lachesis in the 2014 QEII Cup as a sophomore, so she aims to go one better as a four-year-old, as Lachesis did. Nuovo Record also prepped the same way that Lachesis did in 2014, with a second-place effort in the September 27 Sankei Sho All Comers (G2). Among the leaders of her crop, Nuovo Record famously edged Harp Star in the 2014 Japanese Oaks (G1), and just missed in the final fillies’ classic, the Shuka Sho (G1), in her only other appearance at Kyoto. Unfortunately, she’s marooned on the far outside in post 18.

Hula Bride, fourth in last year’s QEII Cup, could be an under-the-radar type for the exotics. The multiple Grade 3 victress has been highly tried versus males this term and exits a fifth, just touched off by Lachesis for fourth, in the Kyoto Daishoten.

This year’s classic generation looks more than capable of overturning the elder distaffers, even without the star Mikki Queen, who’s bound for the Japan Cup. The sophomore trio of Rouge Buck, Queens Ring and Touching Speech have all competed well against Mikki Queen, and can give her a timely compliment ahead of her Tokyo engagement.

Rouge Buck was ticketed for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) until a fever forced her to miss her intended prep, the Sapporo Kinen (G2), and she ended up staying home. A daughter of Manhattan Café and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1)-winning champion Ginger Punch, Rouge Buck swept her first three starts, including a breathtaking Grade 3 coup over males here in February. Although only ninth when shortening up to a mile in the Japanese 1000 Guineas (G1), she still went off as the favorite in the Japanese Oaks, and nearly prevailed. Rouge Buck struck the front in the stretch before being collared late by Mikki Queen. Unraced in the interim, she’ll return from a six-month layoff in this spot.

Queens Ring, another by Manhattan Café, comes off her best performance yet – a neck second to Mikki Queen in the Shuka Sho. Her late thrust fell a neck short in the 2000-meter classic, which was completed in a stakes-record 1:56.9 at Kyoto. Even more notable, Queens Ring clocked the fastest finish, speeding her final three furlongs in :34.1. That suggests she’s improved quite a bit since the first two fillies’ classics (fourth in the 1000 Guineas and ninth in the Oaks). Sure to save ground from post 2, Queens Ring gets a rider switch to Andrasch Starke.

Touching Speech has taken time to live up to her exquisite pedigree: the Deep Impact filly is out of Irish highweight Listen, herself a full sister to fellow Irish juvenile filly highweight Sequoyah, the dam of Henrythenavigator and family member of Magician. Touching Speech signaled her arrival on the big stage by upsetting Mikki Queen in the September 20 Sho Rose (G2), in a blistering 1:45.2 for 1800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles). She didn’t follow up in their rematch in the Shuka Sho, where Touching Speech got up for sixth. But both trainer Sei Ishizaka and jockey Christophe Lemaire believe that she’ll be much better suited by Kyoto’s outer (rather than inner) course.

Ishizaka has a second-stringer in four-year-old Lilavati, who’s been beaten by several of these rivals in lesser events. American fans may remember her dam, though – 2005 Del Mar Oaks (G1) winner Singhalese. Lilavati is one of three U. Carrot Farm colorbearers, along with Rouge Buck and class-climbing four-year-old Marialite, who was second to Chateau Blanche in the Mermaid (G3) and fifth in the Sankei Sho All Comers in her last pair.

Five-year-old Nobori Diana enters in top form for Masahiro Matsunaga, having scored a new career high in the October 17 Fuchu Himba (G2). By French Deputy and out of a full sister to Japanese champion and noted sire Fuji Kiseki, she rolled from some way off the pace to defeat Grade 2 veteran and classic-placed Smart Layer. Others exiting the same prep are Remain Silent (fifth), who has yet to earn black type; Chateau Blanche (12th); Power Spot (13th); and Meisho Mambo (14th).

Win Liberty brings a three-race winning streak into her Grade 1 debut, and among her recent victims was Tagano Etoile, who had placed in last year’s Shuka Sho. Sundarbans can similarly claim a hat-trick on the eve of her first major stakes attempt. Felice Regalo, fifth behind Chateau Blanche, Marialite and Power Spot in the Mermaid, has since landed a Kyoto allowance at this 2200-meter (about 1 3/8-mile) distance.

Photo of Lachesis (nearer camera) edging Nuovo Record in the QEII Cup copyright Japan Racing Association.