Group 1 stars to converge on Hong Kong for international races

A Shin HIkari betting
A Shin Hikari, the Japanese star, and connections has committed to the Hong Kong International Races in December.

A world class array of Group 1 stars will go to war in Hong Kong for horse racing’s annual year-end major, the HK $83 million Hong Kong International Races, on Sunday, December 11. There are 26 G1 winners among the 56 selected runners, including all four of last year’s champions: Japan’s outstanding Maurice and the mercurial yet brilliant A Shin Hikari, Ireland’s remarkable Highland Reel, and Hong Kong’s own Peniaphobia.

The HKIR comprises the HK $25 million Hong Kong Cup (2000m), the HK $23 million Hong Kong Mile (1600m), the HK $18.5 million Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and the HK $16.5 million Hong Kong Vase (2400m). With 28 overseas runners and 28 Hong Kong representatives, horses from nine international jurisdictions are set to compete at this year’s Turf World Championships.

Maurice won an epic edition of last year’s Hong Kong Mile and will return this time to attempt a rare HKIR double, with victory in what is shaping to be a stellar edition of the Hong Kong Cup (2000m). Jim And Tonic took the same route in 1998 and 1999 and is the only horse to have achieved victory in two different HKIR contests.

Japan’s 2015 Horse of the Year is two from two at Sha Tin, having carried off the G1 Champions Mile in May. Trainer Noriyuki Hori’s superstar bounced back from two excusable defeats to slam a top-class field in October’s G1 Tenno Sho (Autumn) – a fifth G1 triumph and first win at 2000m.

Maurice is set to lead a record 13-strong Japanese contingent at the HKIR and is one of 10 G1 winners among the 14 selected runners for the Cup. A Shin Hikari dominated last year’s race with a stunning front-running display and topped the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings this spring after a wide margin victory in France’s G1 Prix d’Ispahan. Japan’s strong hand in the race also includes the JRA’s 2015 2000m champion Lovely Day, recent G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2200m) winner Queens Ring, and the high-class Staphanos.

France’s standout trainer Andre Fabre will seek a third HKIR win with Elliptique, while Germany’s Potemkin, a G1 winner, too, is another European challenger for the event’s showcase race. Four-time G1 winner Designs On Rome took the Hong Kong Cup for Hong Kong in 2014 and will lead the local challenge.

Able Friend is one of 14 selected for the G1 Hong Kong Mile. John Moore’s stable star was imperious in winning the 2014 edition but Maurice was a shade too good for him in 2015. After returning from injury, he aims to become the first horse to regain the Mile title. Set against him are two Japanese stars, both defeaters of Maurice this year. Three-time G1 winner Logotype surprised Japan’s champ in June’s G1 Yasuda Kinen(1600m), while Neorealism, an unlucky third in the recent G1 Mile Championship, beat Maurice in August’s G2 Sapporo Kinen(2000m). Another Japanese raider is Satono Aladdin, a good fifth in the G1 Mile Championship at Kyoto last time. Aidan O’Brien’s smart Cougar Mountain is engaged for Ireland.

Hong Kong’s challengers for the Mile also feature G1 winners Contentment, Giant Treasure and Romantic Touch, as well as recent G2 Jockey Club Mile hero Beauty Only, last season’s champion miler Sun Jewelleryand the exciting rising star Helene Paragon.
This year’s Hong Kong Sprint (14 selected) is shaping to be an epic. The home team is packed with talent, Japan’s big two are set to face off, Australia and North America are represented and the Europeans are sending three of their best.

Big Arthur looked to be the heir to two-time Hong Kong Sprint winner Lord Kanaloa’s weighty crown when winning the G1 TakamatsunomiyaKinen(1200m) in March. The five-year-old encountered traffic problems in the second of Japan’s two G1 sprints, the Sprinters Stakes (2 October), as Red Falx powered wide on the track for a breakthrough victory. The pair head to Sha Tin to decide championship honours.

Aerovelocity won the Hong Kong Sprint in 2014 and, after missing last year’s race, will aim to emulate former world champion sprinter Sacred Kingdom (2007 & 2009), the only horse to date to have regained the Hong Kong Sprint title. He will face familiar foes in last year’s winner Peniaphobia, recent G2 Jockey Club Sprint winner Not Listenin’tome and the rising star of the Hong Kong sprinting ranks, last season’s G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) runner-up, Lucky Bubbles.

France’s Signs Of Blessing won the G1 Prix Maurice de Gheest (1300m) in August, while Profitable, from England, landed the G1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m) at Royal Ascot. Growl, also from the UK, was runner-up in the G1 British Champions Sprint Stakes (1200m) at Ascot in October; America’s Pure Sensation was a close 3rd in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint last time; Rebel Dane, the recent G1 Manikato Stakes (1200m) winner, will attempt to end a 15-year wait for a second Australian-trained victor.

Meanwhile, Highland Reel is heading back to ShaTin in an attempt to become the third dual winner of the Hong Kong Vase in the race’s 22-year history (Luso, 1996 & 1997; Doctor Dino, 2007 & 2008). The four-year-old cut his own slice of history in 2015 when he provided Ireland’s champion trainer O’Brien with a first success in Hong Kong.

Highland Reel is perhaps the world’s most widely-travelled top-class racehorse of recent times, and certainly the most successful globe-trotter currently in action. The Galileo colt has contested 14 G1s in seven international jurisdictions since May, 2015, winning four (Breeders’ Cup Turf; King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes; Hong Kong Vase; Secretariat Stakes), as well as placing second in October’s G1 Prix del’ArcdeTriomphe.

The Irish star is slated to face 13 others in the Vase this time, including the UK’s popular stayer Big Orange; from Japan the 2014 Oaks winner Nuovo Record – runner-up in last year’s Hong Kong Cup – and the classy Smart Layer; New Zealand’s G2 Brisbane Cup hero Benzini; and a talented quartet from France, featuring two-time G1 victor Erupt, G1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud winner Silverwave, and the G2 winners Garlingari and One Foot In Heaven.

“Last year, the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races more than lived up to its reputation as a showcase for exceptional talent,” Anthony Kelly, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Executive Director of Racing and Business Operations, said.

“The occasion produced four stunning races, with each winner a world-calibre Group 1 star. In keeping with the event’s tradition of excellence, we are pleased to see the depth of quality to the selected runners for the 2016 races.”

“All four of the 2015 champions are set to compete again and the home team will have its work cut out to better the one win achieved last time around. It is particularly exciting to see Maurice’s connections sportingly opting to take on the challenge of the Cup rather than the Mile this time.

“Add to the mix the rematch between Japan’s Big Arthur and Red Falx, the return of Able Friend, the continuing exploits of Highland Reel, and an altogether world class line-up of challengers primed for competition, and it’s safe to say we are in for a year-end treat on 11 December.”

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