04/23/2006 12:00AM

Irridescence wins Queen Elizabeth II Cup


Irridescence established herself as one of the world's leading distaffers on Sunday as she led virtually throughout to win the $1.8 million Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin, holding off the late challenges of both Best Gift and Ouija Board.

Withdrawn from the Dubai Duty Free on March 25 after getting hung up on Nad Al Sheba's paddock rails, Irridescence showed no signs of that mishap in Hong Kong with her determined performance in this 1 1/4-mile international Group 1 event. After taking a reluctant lead under Weichong Marwing, she was strongly challenged by Super Kid entering the 2-1/2-furlong stretch. Those two dueled to the eighth-pole where Irridescence shrugged the New Zealand-bred off, only to face even stronger challenges from Best Gift under Eric Saint-Martin and Ouija Board and Frankie Dettori.

Marwing and Irridescence got the job done, however, gutting out the last quarter in 22.4 for a head victory over Best Gift with Ouija Board, who sped the last quarter in 21.8 seconds, a short head further back in third. The final time for the right-handed ten furlongs was 2:02.00 on good to firm ground.

A winner at the Group 1 and Group 2 levels in her native South Africa and at the listed level in Dubai, Irridescence is owned by Team Valor and trained by leading South African conditioner Mike de Kock. By the Kentucky-bred Nureyev stallion Caesour, she is a 4-year-old by Southern Hemisphere standards but five on the North American calendar. Team Valor bought her before her Group 1 tallies in the South African Classic and the Woolavington 2200. Prior to her Dubai sojourn she had finished 1 1/2 lengths fifth against older colts in South Africa's most prestigious race, the Durban July Handicap.

Team Valor's Steve Karlin was ecstatic. "What a ride from Marwing," he exclaimed. "I have just spoken to (Team Valor manager) Barry Irwin in Kentucky and he said to me: 'He's the best jockey I've seen since Willie Shoemaker.' "

"She's quite a temperamental filly and we wouldn't want to do too much traveling with her," said de Kock in a reference to Irridescene's Dubai fiasco, "but we might think about Europe this summer. I don't think she's as good as Ipi Tombe (de Kock and Team Valor's 2003 Dubai Duty Free winner) but she wouldn't be too far behind."