Hong Kong’s showpiece meeting, the Hong Kong International Races, is edging ever closer and a number of key races abroad in the past week or so have thrown up potential contenders for a slice of the prize in December. HKJC’s media man Andrew Hawkins casts his eyes over the happenings to impact the preparation.
A total of HK $83 million is up for grabs at the “Turf World Championships” on Sunday, December 11, across four races – the HK$25 million G1 Hong Kong Cup (2000m), the HK$23 million G1 Hong Kong Mile (1600m), the HK$18.5 million G1 Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and the HK$16.5 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m).
Free entries for the Hong Kong International Races close this coming Monday, 24 October.
Australia – Jameka lives up to favourites tag
The Melbourne spring racing carnival is in full swing and last weekend featured the running of the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m).
The world’s richest mile and a half handicap went the way of Ciaron Maher-trained Jameka, who raced away for an emphatic three-length victory.
Godolphin’s Scottish took second, while third went to former European galloper Exospheric, now in training with Lee and Anthony Freedman. Both have been touted as potential visitors to Sha Tin in December, along with fourth-placed Almoonqith for one-time Hong Kong champion trainer David Hayes.
This weekend sees the G1 Cox Plate (2040m), with all eyes on the clash between last year’s winner Winx and rejuvenated galloper Hartnell, both in stellar form this campaign. However, also on the radar is French star Vadamos, with trainer Andre Fabre a frequent visitor to Sha Tin’s year-end extravaganza. Known for his prowess over a mile but stepping up in trip this weekend, Vadamos could potentially line up in either the Hong Kong Mile or the Hong Kong Cup.
The following week sees the four days of the Melbourne Cup Carnival at Flemington, with a number of vital races for horses who may travel abroad at the end of the year.
North America – Breeders Cup chances could visit Sha Tin
All American roads currently lead to the Breeders’ Cup, to be held at Santa Anita early next month, but stakes racing on the continent in the last two weeks has unearthed a number of possible Hong Kong visitors.
Last weekend’s feature meeting at Woodbine is a traditional stepping stone to end-of-year targets globally, with the G1 Canadian International (2400m) producing a number of Hong Kong Vase runners in the past. Potentially, this year could see a few gallopers make the trek from Toronto.
Francis-Henri Graffard’s Erupt, owned by the Niarchos Family, caused a minor shock with his victory in the Canadian International, capitalising on a slow tempo to fend off Sir Michael Stoute-trained Dartmouth in a European one-two.
Both sets of connections suggested post-race that Hong Kong could be on the agenda, as did the Australian owners of 2014 Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist, who was unsuited by the soft pace and finished last.
A week earlier, Miss Temple City shone with her victory over the boys in the G1 Shadwell Turf Mile (1609m) at Keeneland. Miss Temple City has twice travelled to Royal Ascot, and has been earmarked to possibly make the trip across the Pacific for the Hong Kong Mile.
Europe – End of British flat season
The end of the British flat season was marked by Champions Day at Ascot as Europe’s best collided on one stellar race card.
The G1 British Champions Sprint Stakes (1206m) was won by James Fanshawe’s The Tin Man from well off the pace, but it was fourth-placed Signs Of Blessing who immediately stamped himself as a Hong Kong Sprint contender. Trainer Francois Rohaut indicated as long as the horse remains well, the G1 Prix Maurice de Gheest (1300m) winner will make the trip to the Far East in December.
The G1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (1609m) was won by top filly Minding, but it was third place-getter Lightning Spear who created the most interest from a Hong Kong perspective, while trainer John Gosden suggested G1 Champion Stakes (2012m) third Jack Hobbs could head for the Vase, having had his year interrupted due to setbacks.
A day later, the G2 Prix du Conseil de Paris (2400m) at Chantilly confirmed the Hong Kong prospects of One Foot In Heaven, a son of 2006 Hong Kong Cup winner Pride. Alain de Royer-Dupre’s colt had previously finished sixth to Found in the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Japanese horses eying off Sha Tin
Japan has been a burgeoning force on the world stage in recent years, and that nation’s horses are regular visitors to Sha Tin.
This weekend’s G1 KikukaSho (3000m) – the Japanese St Leger – looks set to throw up another HKIR candidate, with trainer Yasutoshi Ikee suggesting this week that favourite Satono Diamond could be bound for either the Vase or the Cup.
Satono Diamond was third in the G1 Satsuki Sho (2000m) before just failing by a nose in the G1 Tokyo Yushun (2400m), the Japanese Derby, to Makahiki.
It is the following Sunday’s G1 Tenno Sho Autumn (2000m), though, which is set to have a major bearing on the December meeting. The race is set to feature last year’s Hong Kong Cup winner A Shin Hikari and Hong Kong Mile winner Maurice, along with AudemarsPiguet QEII Cup fourth Lovely Day and Dubai Turf winner Real Steel in a star-studded field. All four have been marked as likely Hong Kong runners by their respective trainers.
Hong Kong group 2s run and won
The local path to December’s showcase meeting continues in earnest with a pair of Group 2 races on Sunday – the Oriental Watch 55th Anniversary Sha Tin Trophy (1600m) and the Premier Bowl (1200m).
Last year, of the 25 horses flying the Bauhinia flag come December 20 of them raced in either of these two October features. It is likely to be the same this year, with 12 acceptors for both races.
The last two winners of the Hong Kong Sprint headline the Premier Bowl, with Peniaphobia (133lb) and Aerovelocity (131lb) at the top of the weights. Hong Kong Mile runner-up Giant Treasure (129lb) bolsters the line-up, which also includes stakes winners Lucky Bubbles (131lb), Amazing Kids (130lb) and Not Listenin’tome (130lb), as well as promising sprinters Thewizardofoz (116lb), Lucky Year (115lb) and Blizzard (113lb).
The Oriental Watch 55th Anniversary Sha Tin Trophy is dominated by the big stables of John Moore, John Size and Tony Cruz, who prepare 10 of the 12 runners between them. Perennial big-race trainer Moore has five runners heading towards different targets: Mile hopefuls Helene Paragon (131lb) and Joyful Trinity (122lb), Cup potentials Designs On Rome (133lb), winner of Hong Kong’s richest race in 2014, and Rapper Dragon (122lb), and Vase entrant Helene Happy Star (126lb).
The Premier Bowl jumps as race seven on Sunday at 4:10pm Hong Kong time, with the Oriental Watch 55th Anniversary Sha Tin Trophy the ninth event at 5:15pm Hong Kong time.