After two near misses with superstar mare Lys Gracieux, Japanese trainer Yoshito Yahagi is chasing Hong Kong redemption with Loves Only You in Sunday’s Group One FWD QE II Cup.
Yahagi, who was champion trainer last season and is again leading the way this year, is determined to taste success in the city having come so close twice with Lys Gracieux.
The mare was beaten a neck by Exultant in the 2018 Hong Kong Vase and then came third to compatriot Win Bright in the QE II Cup in 2019 before going on to win her final three races – the Takarazuka Kinen, the Cox Plate in Australia and the Arima Kinen.
Now Yahagi brings Loves Only You – the Japanese Oaks champion from 2019 – to Sha Tin and is keen to make amends.
The five-year-old mare comes into the race after a narrow third to Mishriff in the Group One Dubai Sheema Classic (2,400m), which puts her right in the mix for the HK$25 million feature.
“Of course Lys Gracieux won Group Ones in Australia and Japan but unfortunately she didn’t win in Hong Kong, so for me [we are seeking redemption],” Yahagi said.
“There are four Japanese horses [competing in the QE II] and they are all high-level horses. My horse ran well in Dubai and I believe she’s good enough to [beat] these horses.
“We had to train by ourselves in Dubai so it was pretty difficult to manage her condition, but the shipment here was very easy, the Hong Kong Jockey Club supported us and she travelled really well and has settled in well.”
Vincent Ho Chak-yiu has been given the prized ride and Yahagi has full confidence the 30-year-old will do him proud.
“The situation with the pandemic means it is very difficult to bring a jockey from Japan to Hong Kong so we had to select a local jockey and I believe Vincent Ho is [one of the] strongest jockeys at the moment in Hong Kong,” the trainer said.
Ho, who will also partner Golden Sixty on Champions Day, was thrilled to get the call-up.
“It was really surprising – in a happy way of course – and I’m going to grab this opportunity,” he said.
“When I was a kid I would always see Japanese horses coming to Hong Kong and they would perform really well. They breed really good horses, winning around the world.
“You always want to be on top horses and I’m really grateful to get the opportunity to be on this mare. I’m really excited and I can’t wait for Sunday to come.”
Ho got a feel for Loves Only You on Monday morning and is pleased with how it all went.
“She’s settled in very well. Once she got on the track she really concentrated and that just shows how professional she is,” Ho said. “I was very happy with her work and how she is at the moment.”
Meanwhile, the trainer of likely QE II Cup favourite Daring Tact, Haruki Sugiyama, is bullish about the chances of his gun filly.
The four-year-old swept the Japanese Fillies’ Triple Crown last year before finishing third to Almond Eye in the Japan Cup and he knows she will be very hard to beat if she produces her best.
“If she competes at the top of her ability this weekend, I am confident she is the best horse in the field. But I know all the other runners in this type of race will be tough to beat,” Sugiyama said.