Have equine passport, will travel. And then travel some more, if you’re the globetrotting Japanese mare Deirdre, whose third visit to Sha Tin for the 2019 LONGINES HKIR is merely the latest stop on a remarkable global tour taking in thousands of air miles and an array of world-class races.
With only a brief period back at home, the five-year-old has spent most of the last 12 months overseas – and chances are she won’t be seeing much of Japan next year as her intrepid trainer Mitsuru Hashida plots a route to more of the world’s most lucrative races after she takes her show on the road again for the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m).
Hong Kong, Dubai, Britain and Ireland have already featured on Deirdre’s agenda for 2019, while the 2020 vision mapped out for her includes Saudi Arabia and maybe even the USA on either side of another trip to Dubai and a second summer in Newmarket.
Big, strong and tough, Deirdre is also blessed with an iron constitution. She has developed into a flagbearer for Japan’s international ambitions in what must be the most adventurous campaign ever attempted by a horse from the Far East.
Mind you, even if Deirdre never leaves home again, her place in history is assured based on a memorable summer day at the Goodwood Festival, where she became the first Japanese-trained horse to win in Britain since Agnes World landed the 2000 July Cup with a thrilling success in the G1 Nassau Stakes (2000m).
Deirdre’s Diary – a year in the life of a first-class world traveller
- Dec 2018 – Hong Kong debut produces a fine second in the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup
- Feb 2019 – Beaten favourite back on home soil at Nakayama
- Mar 2019 – Fourth under Joao Moreira in Almond Eye’s Dubai Turf
- Apr 2019 – Back to Sha Tin for a respectable sixth in Win Bright’s QEII Cup
- Jun 2019 – British debut falls flat with a poor run on testing ground at Royal Ascot
- Aug 2019 – Makes history as the first Japanese G1 winner at Glorious Goodwood
- Sep 2019 – A fine fourth in the Irish Champion Stakes despite meeting trouble
- Oct 2019 – Farewell to Europe with a brave third in Magical’s Champion Stakes
- Dec 2019 – Heads to HK again for a date with Exultant over 2400m in the Vase
Make no mistake: this was a big deal, as her jockey Oisin Murphy explains: “They produce really, really good horses in Japan and I can see them dominating over the next couple of years, particularly over middle distances.
“To deliver a G1 winner on British soil was a huge achievement for everyone connected with the horse but also for Japan as a racing nation,” says the 24-year-old just crowned Britain’s champion jockey for the first time.
“Horse racing is very popular in Japan and she is very popular,” adds Murphy, currently stationed there for his second winter stint and riding higher than ever after capturing the Japan Cup aboard Suave Richard: “They have stuffed teddies of her and I think they’re selling pretty well, and everyone knows about her success. It was lovely to ride her in those big races and she acquitted herself really well throughout the year.”
Goodwood a glorious high point
A Classic winner at three, Deirdre had already finished third in the Dubai Turf (1800m) by the time she first set foot in Hong Kong 12 months ago, when she finished strongly under Christophe Lemaire to chase home Glorious Forever in the Hong Kong Cup (2000m).
But such away trips merely served as tasters for when she turned five. After a prep run at Nakayama, Deirdre returned to Meydan. A solid fourth behind Almond Eye under Joao Moreira in the Turf was followed by a return to Hong Kong for the QEII Cup (2000m) and then a long flight to England for a summer campaign beginning at Royal Ascot.
Things didn’t start brightly, as she was down the field as a 33-1 shot under the legendary Yutaka Take in a Prince of Wales’s Stakes (2000m) run in tough conditions on unsuitably testing ground.
But rather than pack up and go home, connections rolled the dice. Deirdre spent the rest of the season at Jane Chapple-Hyam’s Abington Place Stables in Newmarket with trainer’s daughter Seiko (who also acts as owner Toji Morita’s racing manager) overseeing preparations.
Murphy became a regular work morning visitor and the rest is history. Deirdre was ignored in the market at 20/1 on the first day of August at Goodwood but, with faster ground at Britain’s most beautiful racecourse, she cut down the strongly-fancied Mehdaayih and Frankie Dettori with a trademark strong finish to prompt tears of joy among her elated connections.
After that, Deirdre made the frame in the Champion Stakes over 2000m at Leopardstown and Ascot, again finishing powerfully from her customary position well off the pace.
“She puts herself in that spot,” explains Murphy. “Sometimes you say you’d love to sit closer on her but she just gets into a rhythm. She’s a huge type – you have to remember how big and heavy she is – and organising her is all about getting her wherever she’s comfortable.”
Murphy confident Deirdre can go the distance
Murphy says Deirdre’s equable nature plus the team behind her, notably devoted groom Yuta Komiyama, are major factors in her ability to withstand such an arduous schedule.
“The staff are top class and her groom is very, very good,” he says. “Plus she’s tough, a big filly that eats, sleeps and drinks well and she has a very even temperament, which is possibly why she’s taking the world tour so well.”
What is more, Deirdre is nowhere near finished. Now comes the Vase, where Murphy is confident Deirdre will be seen to good effect over 2400m; opting for the Vase over the Cup helps avoid Japan’s superstar filly Almond Eye, though Hong Kong’s champion stayer Exultant and Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck will ensure the bar remains at a formidably high level.
“I think she’ll stay a mile and half no problem,” says Murphy. “They tend to run horses at a range of distances in Japan; they tend not to focus on trip as much as we do at home. But she’s by Harbinger and if you watch her previous runs in Hong Kong, they went a good pace and all she did was stay on.
“Everyone knew she didn’t have her favourite ground both times she ran at Ascot but if she reproduces her British and Irish form, she goes to Hong Kong with a live chance.”
Not surprisingly, trainer Hashida is grateful for everything this wonderful mare has already achieved as he looks ahead to another HKIR assignment.
“We can’t thank Deirdre enough and we are proud of the path she has taken,” he says. “Goodwood was the highlight but every race has been something special. We have unforgettable memories and it’s been a life-changing experience for everyone on the team.”
Nicholas Godfrey has been described (largely by himself, admittedly) as horse racing's answer to Bill Bryson. An international-racing expert, he has been racing in nearly 50 different countries across six continents, details of which have been collected in two books: On The Racing Road: The Ultimate Journey to the Racecourses of the World (2007) and Postcards From The World Of Horse Racing (2017).
He spent 28 years and 51 weeks working for the Racing Post in a number of different roles – front-line reporter, columnist, news reporter, news editor, features writer, features editor, deputy editor and international editor – before leaving in August 2018 to pursue a career navigating the choppy waters of freelance journalism - and he can now be found regularly contributing to attheraces.com.
He is an award-winning writer in both Britain and America, where he won the prestigious Joe Hirsch Breeders' Cup Writing Award for a piece about his favourite horse, Zenyatta.