Noriyuki Hori is no stranger to success at the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races (HKIR) and this Sunday (12 December) at Sha Tin the master handler from Japan will be two-pronged at the end-of-year HKD$100 million showcase.
From nine runners since 2008 – including his trailblazing Jaguar Mail – Hori has enjoyed absurd success at the LONGINES HKIR with three wins in all at a strike-rate of 33%.
In 2016, Hori made history by becoming the only international trainer to win two LONGINES HKIR races at the same meeting when Satono Crown claimed the Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) before Maurice demolished an all-star cast in the Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m).
Both Maurice and Neorealism elevated Hori’s Group 1 haul to five at Sha Tin with their Champions Mile and QEII Cup heroics, but this year, he returns to Hong Kong in December for the first time since 2017, preparing to saddle Salios and Hishi Iguazu.
Salios – a son of Heart’s Cry – is in Hong Kong for his first foray abroad and brings exceptional form from the Land of the Rising Sun over, including two runner-up efforts to Contrail.
“Salios last ran three weeks ago, so considering his condition, I have not given him too much work, we’re just conditioning him,” Hori said ahead of Salios’ Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m) tilt.
The eye-catching chestnut finished sixth last start in the Group 1 Mile Championship (1600m) at Hanshin behind Gran Alegria.
“After he arrived in Hong Kong, the focus is to get him to adapt to the new circumstances and to keep him in good condition,” Hori added.
Since debuting in June of 2019, Salios has had 10 starts overall and boasts a Group 1 win in the 2019 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes (1600m). Hori revealed a plan to send Salios to last year’s LONGINES HKIR, however aborted that in favour of this year.
“Regarding Salios, I planned to send him to the Hong Kong International Races last year as well, but he ran two races already through his autumn campaign, so the trip to Hong Kong was off.
“This year, he was sent to the Mile Championship without any step after the summer break, so this race (Hong Kong Mile) is my target as long as he is fit,” Hori said.
Hori relishes the opportunity to have a crack at ending Golden Sixty’s 16-win unbeaten sequence.
“I understand that Golden Sixty is a really good horse and he must be one of the greatest horses in Hong Kong racing history – it will be very hard to beat him at his home ground, although, I am excited to run against him with respect,” Hori said.
Salios will partner with Damian Lane in Sunday’s HKD$26 million test for the fourth time after the pair’s triumph on debut and two of runner-ups together behind Contrail.
Later on, in Hong Kong’s most valuable contest, the HKD$30 million LONGINES Hong Kong Cup, Hori saddles Hishi Iguazu – also for his first run overseas.
“Hishi Iguazu spent a lot of time to break and get fresh from an early spring through summer, but it was not easy for him to get his form back.
“When he ran the Tenno Sho (Autumn), his condition was not 100 percent fit, he was still progressing, so I think he ran very well even in that form,” Hori said. “It reconfirmed to me how talented he was.”
Hishi Iguazu has raced 12 times in Japan for six wins, scoring once at Group 3 and Group 2 level, respectively, before rising to the top-level last start for fifth in the Group 1 Tenno Sho Autumn (2000m) behind Efforia at Tokyo.
Hori explained that the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup has been a long-term goal.
“Hishi Iguazu took longer to recover his form since he notched four wins in a row. When I decided to debut him back in the Tenno Sho Autumn, I knew that the Hong Kong Cup would be next,” Hori said.
Successful aboard Maurice (once) and Satono Crown for Hori in the past, jockey Joao Moreira will get the leg-up on Hishi Iguazu this weekend.
Where it all started, Jaguar Mail and the 2016 HKIR double
Taking out his trainers’ licence in 2002, Hori is a veteran among the Japan Racing Association’s (JRA) training ranks and he is synonymous with not only success in Hong Kong but also stars of the turf like Duramente, Maurice, Neorealism and Satono Crown.
He was champion trainer of the JRA in 2015 and this season he’s saddled 34 wins and a Group 1 success with Cafe Pharoah in February Stakes (1600m, dirt) earlier this year.
But it was in 2008 when his love affair with Hong Kong began. Hori took the leap of faith with Jaguar Mail and shuttled across from his homeland, saddling the bay to finish a commendable third in the 2008 Hong Kong Vase behind Doctor Dino and Purple Moon.
“Actually, I was inexperienced as a trainer at that time, and looking back at that time, I was really immature,” Hori said.
Jaguar Mail would return to Hong Kong a further three times, finishing fourth in 2009, fourth in 2010 and second in 2012 when he pushed Red Cadeaux to within a short-head.
“However, I had so many chances to know many professionals from all over the world and it thoroughly opened my knowledge and thoughts. I really appreciate all of their support and advice – they are still my precious treasures.
Looking back on his success in Hong Kong, Hori recounted the process of getting Maurice to the 2016 Hong Kong Cup, seven months on from his Group 1 Champions Mile success at Sha Tin.
“There are countless memories with him, but I have never forgotten the process in which he recovered his form after winning the Champions Mile. Thanks to the support from the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the flight back home was arranged for him on the next day of the race (considering the three-week arrival quarantine).
“From there he arrived at the Shiroi quarantine stable (designated by the Japanese Government), but based on the rules for the import quarantine procedures for horses who ran the Yasuda Kinen, he had to move to Tokyo Racecourse once finishing his quarantine period at Shiroi,” Hori outlined.
“Changing different surroundings two times during the short period damaged him, he lost weight and had colic, so he was not in good form – it was quite a shame he was beaten in the Yasuda Kinen – it should not have been.”
Maurice finished second to longshot Logotype in the 2016 Group 1 Yasuda Kinen in July, battling bravely to miss by just over a length.
“Being stuck in quarantine affected his condition seriously and lasted longer (until the Sapporo Kinen in August) than I thought,” Hori said.
Maurice has raced three times at Sha Tin for a trio of successes, claiming the 2015 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile, 2016 Group 1 Champions Mile and 2016 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup.
“I was very impressed by his incredible recovery. He regained his form and won the Tenno Sho Autumn, then his next target was the Hong Kong Cup.
“He had a few travel pains but bounced back and became even stronger after his final gallop before the Hong Kong Cup, which surprised me a lot. I felt gratitude to the Hong Kong Jockey Club for providing all of the foreign horses equal conditions.
Early on throughout his storied career, Hori was taken with Maurice immediately after he was transferred to his care at the age of four.
“He raced in graded races when he was two and three, but after he came to my stable, I decided to send him to a lesser class and resume his career again.
“When I saw his first gallop, I remembered I was so impressed with him moving beautifully. Since then I was dreaming of his future progress, and the dreams came true,” Hori said.
Across his career, Maurice was crowned Japan’s Horse of the Year (2015) and he was a six-time Group 1 winner. The son of Screen Hero now stands at Arrowfield Stud in Australia.
Looking ahead to Sunday, Hori is again chanced with emulating his 2016 heroics by claiming two of the Group 1 features – a possible sixth or even a seventh top-level score at Sha Tin.
“Firstly, I would like to thank the Hong Kong Jockey Club for organising the International Races as usual under this pandemic.
“Due to the updated new border enforcement becoming stricter, I am not able to join the races. However I really trust not only my stable staff who travel with horses but also all the people who support us in Hong Kong.
“I understand it will be very difficult to achieve the feats because I remembered that Satono Crown and Neorealism were also unable to win at their first overseas challenges,” Hori said. “So, both of them running safely is more important than anything, and I wish this experience helps their future performances.”
Hori’s Group 1 winners in Hong Kong are Maurice (2015 Hong Kong Mile, 2016 Champions Mile, 2016 Hong Kong Cup), Satono Crown (2016 Hong Kong Vase) and Neorealism (2017 QEII Cup).