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No matter where she finishes in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m), those watching will be witnessing both history in the making and a history maker, Japan’s champion mare with an endearingly fetching name – Loves Only You.

The LONGINES Hong Kong Cup will be the final race for Loves Only You, capping a short, star-studded, and decidedly international career, which has seen the now five-year-old daughter of Deep Impact land one of the most elusive overseas wins for Japan – its first Breeders’ Cup victory, while her FWD QEII Cup (2000m) triumph at Sha Tin earlier this year came at her first Hong Kong sortie.

Debuting in late 2018, Loves Only You pocketed her first G1 the next year in the fourth start of her career, with a win of the classic Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, 2400m).

And she did it unbeaten.

She’d been the race favorite from her career second start through her run in Japan’s G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2200m) in the autumn, when Loves Only You failed for the first time to meet expectations. It was still a far-from-shabby third behind older females, as she finished 0.2s off winner Lucky Lilac who, the following month, finished second in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m).

Six months passed without a race, after which Loves Only You was given five starts for 2020, none of them wins and three out of the frame. They ran the gamut from understandable to forgivable to downright inexcusable.

On paper alone, it looked like the filly’s career was on the rocks. But, key to her inability to show her form, incredible spring and a nimbleness that assistant trainer Kazunari Yoshida likens to a cat, was to be found in those six months at the beginning of 2020. That key was the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, or more specifically, the wrench it threw into racing.

When it was announced in late March 2020 that the Dubai World Cup meeting would be cancelled after all, 20 horses from Japan - its biggest team yet and Loves Only You among them - were already on site and had to return to Japan without racing.

The stress of quarantine, travel, and strange surroundings apparently took its toll on Loves Only You. It wasn’t until Japan’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2200m) that year that the then four-year-old started to look like her old self, finishing in third place for the second year in a row, this time only 0.1s behind repeat winner Lucky Lilac.

But at year-end, her 10th-place finish nearly a full second behind the winner in the G1 Arima Kinen seemed to bode poorly for the future. The distance of 2500m was her longest assignment yet and barrier four had seemed advantageous. But Mirco Demuro blamed her loss on the trip. “The inside ground was torn up and I’d wanted to travel about 4 widths off the rail, but there was too much pressure on the outside and I couldn’t find a way out,” he said.

The start of 2021 brought a new rider and new hope. Most importantly, it brought fantastic results. Loves Only You has yet to figure out of the top three in her five starts this year, all graded stakes, three of them top level. And, despite the continuing pandemic, Loves Only You has done more flying than most humans.

She started with a win of the G2 Kyoto Kinen (2200m) at Hanshin in February under Yuga Kawada and the next month flew off to Dubai, this time finishing third G1 in the Dubai Sheema Classic (2410m) under Oisin Murphy. In April, she debuted in Hong Kong and, with Vincent Ho up, led a Japanese 1-2-3-4 over the finish line of the G1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m).

“In one word, ‘strong’, is what she was,” said 60-year-old Yoshito Yahagi, currently only two wins from the top of Japan’s trainers’ championship. “She lost a shoe going into the first turn and, yet, was able to show the kind of speed she did in the stretch.

“Having kept her condition while training alone in Dubai before going to Hong Kong was quite an achievement. I think it shows how tough she is mentally.”

Ho agreed she was top notch. “She was extremely calm and professional. She held on very strongly and won impressively,” he said.

Back home, after four months off, Loves Only You was given her first start for the campaign in the G2 Sapporo Kinen (2000m). She finished second, less than a length behind dual G1 winner Sodashi and, more importantly, was able to show her prowess over the specific grass unique to the Hokkaido tracks. And that was part of the plan.

The venue for this year’s Breeders’ Cup venue was of special interest to Yahagi. “It is at Del Mar on the west coast, close to Japan. And, the turf at Sapporo is similar to the turf at Del Mar and I believe California turf will suit Japan horses,” he predicted leaving for the Breeders’ Cup.

On 22 October, when Loves Only You departed Japan with stablemate Marche Lorraine. Yahagi noted, “I think with two horses, it will make conditions very favorable. I think we have the best chances of success of any so far.”

The rest is history. Both horses won their respective races, Loves Only You with a gutsy, spine-tingling finish in the G1 Filly & Mare Turf (2200m) and Marche Lorraine in the Distaff, giving Japan not only its first long-coveted Breeders’ Cup victory after 25 years of trying, but two wins for good measure.

“There’s no words for how overjoyed I am,” Yahagi said post-race. “There were some difficult places, and I must admit I thought she wasn’t going to make it.

“It was a very exciting race. There’s nothing better than to be able to send that exciting news back home to Japan.

“I have nothing but gratitude for Loves Only You and wish to say to her, ‘Thank you for bringing me here.’ She is to me like a most-beloved daughter.”


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