Star quality abundant in Hong Kong International entries

Former Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist is being aimed at the Hong Kong International Races in December.

World class quality pervades the 184 entries for the Hong Kong International Races, released on Wednesday, with star gallopers from across four continents and 13 jurisdictions setting their sights towards the HKD $83 million end-of-year showcase at Sha Tin on December 11.

The HKIR comprises the $25 million G1 Hong Kong Cup (2000m), the $23 million G1 Hong Kong Mile, the HK $18.5 million G1 Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and the $16.5 million G1 Hong Kong Vase (2400m).

A total of 135 of this year’s entries are overseas nominations, against 49 from Hong Kong. In all, 69 of the nominated horses are Group 1 winners and include all four of last year’s victors, Japan’s subsequent Horse of the Year, Maurice, compatriot A Shin Hikari, Ireland’s Highland Reel and local hero Peniaphobia.

Highland Reel (Vase) gave Ireland’s champion trainer Aidan O’Brien a first Hong Kong win in last year’s Vase and the master of Ballydoyle has a stellar hand among his eight nominations this year. As well as the aforementioned G1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2400m) winner, O’Brien’s G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (2400m) heroine Found holds entries for Sha Tin in December, in both the Cup and the Vase; the brilliant three-year-old filly Alice Springs, with three G1 wins already on the board, could start in either the Mile or the Cup; classic heroine Seventh Heaven, winner of the G1 Irish Oaks (2400m) and G1 Yorkshire Oaks (2400m) this summer has Cup and Vase entries; and last year’s G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (1600m) winner Hit It A Bomb is engaged in the Mile and Cup.

Another international heavyweight, Japan’s Maurice triumphed in the Hong Kong Mile last year but this time trainer Noriyuki Hori is favouring a tilt at the showpiece Hong Kong Cup (2000m), although the four-time G1 winner does hold a mile entry, too.

The Cup’s Japanese bloc is prodigious. As well as Maurice, the entries feature G1 Dubai Turf (1800m) hero Real Steel, last year’s runner-up Nuovo Record, one-time JRA 2000m champion Lovely Day, Maurice’s recent G2 Sapporo Kinen (2000m) conqueror Neorealism and returning champion A Shin Hikari, the world’s top-rated turf horse according to the official World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, thanks to his spring demolition of European rivals in the G1 Prix d’Ispahan (1800m).

All told, the early Cup candidates offer the potential of a vintage renewal with Ireland’s top-class filly Pleascach engaged for trainer Jim Bolger, who lifted the prize in 2004 with another filly, Alexander Goldrun. Australia’s exciting Caulfield Cup (2400m) heroine Jameka is also entered for the Cup and holds a Vase entry as well.

Hong Kong could look to 2014 Hong Kong Cup hero Designs On Rome, winner of the G2 Sha Tin Trophy (1600m) on Sunday at his first start this season. Other local entries for the Cup include G1 winners Blazing Speed (also nominated for the Vase) and Military Attack, while the exciting four-year-old Rapper Dragon is being aimed at the race.

From France, G1 Canadian International (2400m) winner Erupt holds a Cup and a Vase entry, while fellow French raider Elliptique, winner of the G1 Grosser Dalmayr-Preis – Bayerisches Zuchtrennen (2000m), is a Cup possible. Britain’s G1 Arlington Million (2000m) victor Mondialiste has the option of the Cup or the Mile.

Overseas star gallopers engaged for the other three LONGINES Hong Kong International Races include, from Europe, Britain’s brilliant July Cup (1200m) and Prix de la Foret (1400m) winner Limato (entered for the Mile and Sprint), G1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m) victor Profitable (Sprint), G1 Prix Maurice de Gheest (1300m) scorer Signs Of Blessing (Sprint), September’s G1 Prix du Moulin (1600m) victor Vadamos (Mile), top-class filly Lumiere (Mile), 2014 G1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) winner Protectionist (Vase), last year’s G1 Irish Derby (2400m) hero Jack Hobbs (Vase), two-time G1 Prix Royal-Oak (3100m) victor Vazirabad (Vase) and G1 Irish St Leger (2800m) winner Wicklow Brave.

North American interest could rest on this year’s G1 Northern Dancer Stakes (2400m) scorer The Pizza Man (Vase) and G1 Shadwell Turf Mile victress Miss Temple City (Mile), while superstar filly Tepin, a six-time G1 winner, is also in possession of an entry for the Mile.

Australia’s strong list of entries features last weekend’s G1 Manikato Stakes (1200m) winner Rebel Dane (Sprint), third Japonisme (Sprint) and fourth The Quarterback (Sprint), the G1-winning mares Azkadellia (Mile) and Lucia Valentina (Cup), recent G1 Toorak Handicap winner He’s Our Rokkii (Mile and Cup), four-time G1 victor Preferment (Cup) and G1 Ranvet Stakes (2000m) winner The United States (Cup and Vase).

Meanwhile, Japan’s strong list of nominees, the largest overseas contingent with 38 entries all told, also includes this year’s G1 Sprinters Stakes (1200m) hero Red Falx (Sprint), G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1200m) winner Big Arthur (Sprint) and G1 Yasuda Kinen (1600m) scorer Logotype (Mile and Cup).

Hong Kong’s crop of talented nominees features the last two Hong Kong Sprint winners Aerovelocity (Sprint) and Peniaphobia (Sprint), as well as rising speed stars Lucky Bubbles (Sprint) and Amazing Kids (Sprint), while 2014 Mile winner Able Friend is engaged for both the Sprint and the Mile. G1 scorers Contentment (Mile) and Giant Treasure (Mile) are also entered, as are Hong Kong’s current champion miler Sun Jewellery (Mile), the talented Beauty Only (Mile), Helene Paragon (Mile), Joyful Trinity (Mile) and the thrice raced three-year-old Pakistan Star (Mile), an internet sensation following two stunning come-from-behind wins in lesser grade earlier this term.

Mr. Anthony Kelly, Executive Director, Racing and Business Operations at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, said: “The abundance of quality we see among this year’s initial entries for the Hong Kong International Races is testament to the international prestige of an event that is not only Hong Kong’s premier sporting occasion, but is also unquestionably world horseracing’s year-end showcase.

“Two years ago the Jockey Club made a strategic decision to raise prize money to HKD $83 million across the four Group 1 races and last year’s HKIR was acclaimed, quite rightly, as the best ever staged. Since then, Hong Kong has been admitted into the elite Part I of the “Blue Book” and so we are delighted to see that the quality of horses we have attracted among the initial entries suggests that this year’s races could turn out to be every bit as good as last, perhaps better. The depth of talent is exciting.

“After Highland Reel’s win last year, his first in open Group 1 company, it is pleasing to see Aidan O’Brien nominate such strong candidates. It is also fantastic to have such a mass of Japan’s stars entered on the back of last year’s successes, and with so many top-class horses entered from four continents, it looks a certainty that the second Sunday in December will deliver an afternoon of exceptional horse racing.”

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