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Derby preparations on final approach in England

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Cervinia wins Sunday's Grade 1 Japanese Oaks. Photo by and courtesy of Masakazu Takahashi
1 of 2 | Cervinia wins Sunday's Grade 1 Japanese Oaks. Photo by and courtesy of Masakazu Takahashi

May 20 (UPI) -- Derby preparations were on final approach during the weekend in England and some of the big names among older horses got a shock result, while Japan celebrated an Oaks winner and braced for its own Derby, and Hong Kong girded for the final Group 1 race of its season.

Racing around the globe ensures there's seldom a dull week. Here's the current scoop:

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England

Arabian Crown, among the favorites in antepost wagering, has been ruled out of the June 1 Epsom Derby with a minor setback in training, Godolphin announced Friday.

The news left one-time hot favorite City of Troy as a kind of default favorite despite a dismal showing in the Guineas in his 3-year-old debut for the Coolmore lads and trainer Aidan O'Brien.

On the racecourses:

Saturday's Group 1 Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury was a bit of a sticky wicket for the big guns. Audience got the standing ovation while Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Inspiral and Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes winner Big Rock flubbed their lines.

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Audience, with Robert Havlin up, jumped right out to the lead and never quit. Charyn gave futile chase through the final furlong of the 1-mile contest but settled for second, 1 3/4 lengths in arrears.

Inspiral did make up some ground late to finish fourth but Big Rock was done early and faded to finish a well-beaten fifth.

Audience, a 5-year-old Iffraaj homebred from historic Cheveley Park Stud, is a consistent hard-tryer, but had not won since last July at Newmarket. The Lockinge was his first Group 1 run.

"He's always been hugely talented, but has just been a little bit of a wayward child," Havlin said of Audience. "He's been a 5-year project, but we got there in the end."

John Gosden, co-trainer of both Audience and Inspiral, said the latter "just got tired" and hinted at a rematch with her stablemate in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.

First in Saudi Arabia, then in Dubai, Giavelloto had finished well up the course behind victorious Tower of London in their last two races in February and March.

On Friday at York, it was a different story as Giavelloto, a 5-year-old son of Mastercraftsman, rolled to a 4 3/4-length victory in the Group 2 Boodles Yorkshire Cup, while Tower of London tossed in a clunker, finishing fifth, beaten more than 11 lengths.

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Giavelloto won the same race last year, but was winless in five intervening starts. Trainer Marco Botti said the 2 1/2 miles of the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot is too far for Giavelloto, so the Irish St. Leger might be a long-range target.

Japan

Cervenia atoned nicely for a disappointing showing in last month's Oka Sho or Japanese 1,000 Guineas by rallying down the middle of the Tokyo Racecourse straight Sunday to snatch a 1/2-length victory in the Yushun Himba or Japanese Oaks.

The late move denied the Oka Sho winner, Stellenbosch, and ended that rival's hopes of a fillies' Triple Crown sweep. Light Back was third.

Cervenia missed her scheduled start in last December's Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies because of a leg issue, and then returned to finish 13th in the Oka Sho.

There was no sign of that disappointment in her performance Sunday. After racing virtually side-by side in mid-pack through much of the 2,400 meters,

Cervenia and Stellenbosch took diverging paths from mid-stretch as jockey Christophe Lemaire took Cervenia outside traffic while Keita Tosaki sought out a route between rivals farther inside for Stellenbosch.

Stellenbosch grabbed the lead, but could not hold it as Cervenia blew by on her outside to claim the crown.

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"I'm back," said Lemaire, who was injured in a fall at Meydan Racecourse on Dubai World Cup night, missed the Oka Sho and only recently returned to riding.

"It's a wonderful feeling. The filly didn't do well in the Oka Sho but I know how high her potential is and was very confident today. I tried not to let her make an early bid -- let her find her stride after turning into the straight -- and she just stretched beautifully from there."

Liberty Island won the 2023 Yushun Himba en route to a Triple Crown sweep with a victory in the Shuka Sho and finished second behind Equinox in the Japan Cup.

Hong Kong

The final Group 1 race of the Hong Kong season, and the longest at 2,400 meters, is set for Sunday, with Rebel's Romance in town to take on budding local star Massive Sovereign and others in the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup.

Massive Sovereign won his first two starts in Hong Kong, including the BMW Hong Kong Derby, before faltering in the Group 1 QE II Cup last month over soggy turf. Imported from Ireland, he's a bit of an anomaly among Hong Kong runners, who seldom venture beyond 2,000 meters.

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Rebel's Romance, meanwhile, is riding a three-race winning streak for is Godolphin management team. That skein includes the Group 3 H H the Amir Trophy in Doha and the Group 1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic.

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