IF there were any prizes for the happiest smiles after the draw for Sunday’s Group 1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha-Tin in Hong Kong, they would probably have gone to joint owner Mrs Barbara Amm, who confessed to extreme nervousness before drawing 2 for the Mike de Kock challenger River Jetez.
The connections of River Jetez were joined in their contentment by Herman Brown, trainer of Gitano Hernando, who felt 6 was perfect for his horse. “It means we won’t be tight on the rail and we don’t have to do one thing or the other. We can go either forward or back according to how the race is run. I’m very, very happy with that.”
The draw for this prestigious race is of more significance than most because, in the words of Darren Beadman, “The 2000m start is the trickiest at Sha Tin because the first turn comes so early.”
Beadman himself will have been more or less content with the Gate 9 for his mount, two-time APQEII Cup winner Viva Pataca, as this habitual hold-up horse would not have been involved in any jostling for early position in any case. Viva Pataca’s trainer John Moore, anxious not to put any pressure of expectation on the veteran champion, said: “He probably has a chance from a place point of view, although I’d like to think he’ll be right up there at the finish.”
If there is any charge for the lead at the first turn it looks most likely to be led by the Moore-trained front-runner Mighty High, as the trainer said of him: “I would think he’ll be going forward, as he has previously raced well when ridden in a forward position.”
In that case Mighty High could be doing some early work to cross from Gate 13. Of Moore’s other two runners, Destined For Glory drew 1 and Irian 8: the latter perhaps a difficult gate for the G1 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup runner-up if Brett Prebble is looking to slot in not too far back. Moore asserted that: “If Irian can reproduce his run behind Snow Fairy in December he’s got to be the one to beat” and described Destined For Glory as: “The dark horse in the race.”
He had no doubt however that the main threat to his quartet is Ambitious Dragon. Connections of the HKG1 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby winner will have been less than thrilled to have drawn wide in 12, but bearing in mind that the son of Pins was good enough to overcome 14 in the Derby, his genial owner Johnson Lam had no trouble continuing to smile. “My horse is very well,” he said when interviewed on stage “but this is the best opposition he has met so I must not be over-confident.”
Other late finishers who may be going back include Dubai Duty Free third Wigmore Hall and the Tony Cruz-trained HKG1 Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cup winner California Memory. Trainer Michael Bell’s assistant Gillian Dolman, who has been riding Wigmore Hall in all his work, was relaxed about his draw of 10. “He’s a slow starter and he’s going to be held up anyway,” she said. “So perhaps it doesn’t make a great deal of difference.”
Tony Cruz revealed that the brilliant California Memory, who actually delivered a faster final quarter in the Gold Cup than Snow Fairy had in the CXHK Cup itself, had suffered from a foot abscess a couple of weeks ago. “But we’ve got rid of that. He’s in excellent condition now, and it didn’t really hold up his work. If he runs well on Sunday and pulls up well, we’re planning to go on to Singapore (for the G1 Singapore Airlines International Cup). And Matthew (Chadwick) will ride him in both races as the owners were very pleased with his ride last time.”
Chadwick, who made the draw on behalf of connections, drew 11, but Cruz was undisturbed. “We drew 12 in the Gold Cup and now 11 here. So we’ll be riding the same way – out the back door. I see the pace as being fairly similar to his last race. It’s all good. I’m very happy with him.”
Chadwick, riding in only his second international G1 after his ride on Beauty Flash in the Champions Mile last year and bidding to become the first local rider to win one at home, echoed the trainer’s opinion. “The draw’s OK,” he said. “We would settle back anyway. It’s great to have a ride in a race like this, and an extra bonus to be on one with a really good chance of winning.”
Photo: Barbara Amm drew Number 2 for River Jetez, the grand mare she owns in partnership with husband Cedric and Marsh Shirtliff. (hkjc.com).