Team Valor's South African champion Irridescence took the lead at the start and had enough left in the tank to hold off a determined Ouija Board in the HK$14 million Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup (HK-I) over 10 furlongs at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Irridescence stubbornly held on to win by a short head over Best Gift, who in turn finished a head in front of Ouija Board.
Ouija Board, who was sent off as the 6-4 favorite, came with a scorching late run but was unable to catch the determined Irridescence, who set a slow pace. Frankie Dettori, who replaced Kieren Fallon aboard the four-time group I winner, was disappointed with the loss, but still remained upbeat with regards to the mare's performance.
"She broke slowly and didn't have the pace to go with them early on," he said. "At a mile and a half she would have been the winner. I just ran out of track and things didn't go her way. She felt as good as ever, and I don't see why she shouldn't have a great season ahead of her."
Early in 2005 Team Valor purchased Irridescence, the champion 3-year-old filly in South Africa last year. She has been trained throughout her career by Michael de Kock, and was ridden again by Weichong Marwing. She most recently had to be withdrawn from the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I) after she became agitated in the walking ring and reared when her jockey was given a leg up. She landed on a metal protrusion on the outside railing of the paddock. This was her first race back since her recovery.
De Kock, South Africa's most internationally renowned trainer, finished second with Grey's Inn in last year's Audemars Piguet QEII Cup.
Reluctantly sent to the lead by Marwing, Irridescence dictated the steady pace, cutting out the first 800 meters in splits of 26.4 and 24.8 seconds. Marwing skipped two lengths clear of the field while setting sail for home with enough in reserve to hold off the sustained challenge of Best Gift and the late charging Ouija Board.
The winner paid nearly 5-1 as third favorite.
Afterwards Marwing insisted, "That wasn't exactly the plan! I think that she is a better filly when she is held up, but when there was no pace and she broke well I felt that I had to go on. It all worked out okay in the end, and she held on well to the line."
"What a ride from Marwing!" ecstatic owner Steve Karlin gushed. "I have just spoken to Barry Irwin (manager of Team Valor) and he said to me, 'He's the best jockey I've seen since Willie Shoemaker.'"
Karlin suggested that Europe could be on the cards, though de Kock said her brilliance is compromised by her temperament and that might limit her world aspirations.
"She was unlucky when she was scratched in Dubai after her accident in the paddock," the trainer said. "She was my best runner that night but in another way it was lucky that she didn't do herself any more damage and that we are still able to race her.
"She's quite a temperamental filly and we wouldn't want to do too much traveling with her but we might think about Europe in the summer. I don't think she's as good as Ipi Tombe (De Kock's Dubai Duty Free winner in 2003) but she wouldn't be too far behind."
Irridescence is the second South African winner of the QE II since London News in 1997.
If there was a disappointment in the race it was the sixth-placed finish of the Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby (HK-I) winner, Viva Pataca, sent off the second favorite. He was caught deep on the track from a wide barrier and never challenged.