QEII Cup Preview and Picks

Sha Tin
Sunday, April 24   4:35 am ET
Race 8 The Audemars Piguet QEII Cup

Carded as the eighth race of the day on Sunday at Sha Tin, the Audemars Piguet QEII Cup marks the return of Group 1 caliber international runners to what appears to be a dark and gloomy scene in Hong Kong.

Wet weather aside, a 13-strong field has been compiled, including Hong Kong Vase winner Highland Reel and the strong Japanese contingent of Lovely Day, Satono Crown and Nuovo Record. Rising Romance represents Australia while Ertijaal joins the fray for top trainer Mike de Kock and Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Shadwell Racing.

Lovely Day -- a son of King Kamehameha out of Listed stakes placegetter Popcorn Jazz -- boasts the strongest credentials of the away team thanks to wins in last year's G1 Takarazuka Kinena and G1 Tenno Sho (Autumn). Named Japan's best Older Horse or Colt for 2015, Lovely Day was the most consistent runner in what was an older division lacking a star after a flurry of retirements and injuries. His form through compatriots Staphanos and Nuovo Record -- both of whom are G1 placegetters in Hong Kong -- reflects favorably on Lovely Day's chances in what will be his first run abroad. 

Kyoto Kinen winner Satono Crown is clearly a progressive type and of the Japanese contingent, he is the one to upgrade should the forecast rain result in a rare downgraded Sha Tin turf surface. His form suggests he may be best over further, however. He is an intriguing prospect exiting solid efforts against what appears was a strong three-year-old crop, including leading Arc hopeful Duramente, Dubai Turf winner Real Steel and Arima Kinen placegetter Kitasan Black. There is every possibility the three-year-olds were classier than their older counterparts last season in Japan and if so, expect Satono Crown to give the older statesman Lovely Day a run for his money. 

Lost in the shuffle of the strong Japanese contingent, however, is the strength of the home team. Defending champion Blazing Speed returns with the hope of keeping his crown. He is a horse who needs everything his own way in running, however, and his last three runs have not been particularly encouraging despite two of those coming over a distance short of his best. 

Hong Kong's main hope instead lies with this year's G1 Hong Kong Gold Cup winner Designs On Rome. Named Hong Kong's Horse of the Year in 2014, Designs On Rome has won three of his past six starts over 2000m locally. One of those losses, a fourth in the 2015 Longines Hong Kong Cup, was actually a fantastic effort when facing a far from ideal steady pace scenario in what was only his second start after arthroscopic surgery to both front fetlocks.

Designs On Rome's performances on track and his appearances in the mornings have not been of the consistently high level which has become standard for him. His past two runs have been outstanding, however, and he clocked two solid works this week, the best of which came when seen working in company on April 21 over the dirt. 

The pace of this race would be against him should it be slowly run throughout seeing as he will likely drop to last from the inside barrier. This is a race which features several horses who go forward -- just not at quick tempos -- and for that reason, a more moderate tempo is expected. Helene Super Star drawn wide or Rising Romance pushing forward midrace would not surprise, either. 

Nevertheless, Designs On Rome looks likely to get an adequate pace scenario. He will be once again partnered with Tommy Berry, with whom he has had great success in the past. Any significant rain will only help the son of Holy Roman Emperor's case as well, having a win over soft ground at Naas and a runner-up finish over soft to heavy ground at Tipperary on his resume. Additionally, his best Irish run before arriving in Hong Kong came on a similar surface to what he is likely to face Sunday, with his fast-finishing second to Dawn Approach in the National Stakes on a yielding track.

With the hype centered around the Japanese, who have top locally based jockeys Joao Moreira and Zac Purton on their side, they are expected to take the bulk of the betting.

Picks and Play:

#4 Designs On Rome
#7 Satono Crown
#3 Lovely Day

Play: 4-3 and 4-7 quinellas              4 / 3,7 / 2,3,5,7,10,12 trifecta

Photo by Darren Foreman

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