While the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races have earned their reputation as the climax to the global calendar, every year one or two of the most eagerly-anticipated challenges from Europe come unravelled when the toll of a long campaign suddenly catches up.
That is not a concern which ought to bother international pioneer Dermot Weld and owner/breeder the Aga Khan, who made a conscious decision to keep Eziyra fresh for the latter half of her four-year-old season.
The result is that she will line up in Sunday’s HK$20 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) off the back of a light campaign which has featured just four starts, with wins in the G3 Ballyroan Stakes and the G2 Blandford Stakes sandwiching a fine effort when third to G1 Irish Oaks heroine Sea Of Class in the Yorkshire version.
“We’re seeing the benefit in giving her the first half of the year off,” says Pat Downes, manager of the owner’s racing and breeding interests in Ireland. “It was always the plan when we finished LONGINES Irish Champions Weekend last year that she would have a long break and she didn’t go to Dermot until 1 June. I think we’re seeing the benefit of that now and everyone seems to be very happy with her.”
Eziyra was one of the last of the international brigade to fly in and didn’t make her first show beyond Sha Tin’s quarantine quarters until Wednesday, having returned to trainer Weld’s Rosewell House base on the Curragh following a sixth-place effort in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at the start of November.
But the chestnut daughter of Teofilo has quickly caught the eye, floating over the all-weather under work-rider Carlos Viera, a clue perhaps to her likely effectiveness on the expected firm turf.
Downes says: “She has a nice draw and I think she’ll enjoy the nicer ground than we got in Churchill [Downs]. She didn’t seem to appreciate that stickier ground and we’re hopeful of a big run, which she is entitled to do on the ratings. Hopefully there will be plenty of pace and she will run a good race.”
The Aga Khan’s emerald green with red epaulettes are some of the most distinctive and historic silks in European racing and have already graced the HKIR winners’ podium, thanks to Daryakana’s 2009 success in the Vase, while His Highness also bred and campaigned Epsom Derby runner up Daliapour, who went on to score in the 2000 edition on his first start for owner Robert Ng.
A quick glance at Eziyra’s nearest relatives would confirm she hails from one of the most vibrant families in the famous breeding operation’s broodmare band, with her dam Eytarna being a sister to Ascot Gold Cup winners Enzeli and Estimate.
Weld quickly repaid the decision to add him to the Aga Khan’s roster of trainers when landing the Epsom Derby with Harzand in 2016, while jockey Christophe Lemaire is a familiar ally in the saddle, having won seven Group or Grade 1s during a four year spell as retained rider in France.
“Christophe is certainly not a negative, he is in great form and has ridden plenty of big winners for His Highness,” said Downes. “Eziyra was initially accepted into the Cup but the Vase would always have been our choice and so when it came out like that we were delighted.”
A fresh filly representing revered connections who has been quietly catching the eye during her low-key preparations this week, Eziyra has plenty to recommend her.
Eziyra (IRE), on the All Weather track this week, picture Liesl King