By Nicholas Godfrey
Hanshin: Queen Elizabeth II Cup G1 ¥226.8m (£1.64m) 2,200 metres (1m3f), turf, 3yo+ f/m
Lucky Lilac (Mikio Matsunaga/Christophe Lemaire)
Japan: With Christophe Lemaire making a bold early move, Lucky Lilac held off the late challenge of Salacia and Loves Only You to complete back-to-back successes in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup.
The Mikio Matsunaga-trained five-year-old is the fourth horse to win the race twice, following in the footsteps of Mejiro Dober (1998-99), Admire Groove (2003-04) and Britain’s Snow Fairy, who famously scored in 2010 and 2011 under Ryan Moore.
Champion jockey Lemaire was riding Lucky Lilac for the first time in Sunday’s ¥226.8m (£1.64m) event, the first race in the Japan Autumn International series and transferred this year to Hanshin as Kyoto undergoes a massive renovation project.
Breaking from the widest gate in an 18-runner field, the daughter of dual Arc runner-up Orfevre broke smoothly and settled in mid-division before advancing as they entered the turn into the straight.
The 23-10 favourite hit the front two furlongs out and got first run on her rivals, though her advantage was rapidly dwindling at the post as Salacia and Loves Only You charged down her outside. The post came in time in a finish of necks.
A champion two-year-old filly in 2017 before being placed behind Almond Eye in a pair of Classics, Lucky Lilac was recording her fourth G1 victory.
“She has been racing at the top level since her two-year-old season and I had confidence in her,” said Lemaire, well on the way to his fourth JRA jockeys’ title.
“The wide draw was a concern but we were able to race smoothly and move up from the third turn,” added the Frenchman, who earlier this week passed the 1,300-winner mark in Japan.
“She was very relaxed and found her usual turn of speed. We took the front early in the stretch but she held on well until the end. She’s a strong horse.”
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