World class selected runners revealed for Hong Kong International Races

Pakistan Star returns to action
Pakistan Star will compete in the Hong Kong Vase. Picture: HKJC

The HK$93 million Hong Kong International Races will bring together international stars for four exciting and elite Group 1 contests at Sha Tin Racecourse on Sunday, 9 December.

Among the 50 selections – featuring 23 G1 winners – is a 25-strong contingent of world class overseas raiders including Japan’s champion sprinter Fine Needle, plus the hugely-talented Sungrazer and five other G1-winning compatriots. The strong Japanese party also includes crack miler Persian Knight who will challenge Hong Kong’s outstanding champion Beauty Generation, the world’s highest-rated specialist turf miler.

The European cohort features French ace Waldgeist and the past two winners of the G1 Irish Derby, Latrobe and Capri, as well as Britain’s new G1 heroine One Master.

The HKIR is the sport’s global year-end Group 1 extravaganza. The “Turf World Championships” features the HK$28 million Hong Kong Cup (2000m), the HK$25 million Hong Kong Mile (1600m), the HK$20 million Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and the HK$20 million Hong Kong Vase (2400m).

Hong Kong won three of the four features last year and Beauty Generation (Mile), Time Warp (Cup) and Mr Stunning (Sprint) are selected to defend their crowns. The now-retired Irish ace Highland Reel scored in the Vase in 2017.

Japan’s horsemen drew a blank last year but have assembled a nine-strong raiding party in an attempt to add to the recent brilliant wins of Maurice, A Shin Hikari and Satono Crown.

Ireland has four horses engaged, Great Britain eight, France two, and Australia and Singapore one apiece. The overseas challengers are primed to face a 25-strong Hong Kong defence, which includes the circuit’s latest speed sensation Hot King Prawn.

Mr. Andrew Harding, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Executive Director, Racing, said: “The LONGINES Hong Kong International Races is firmly established among a select handful of the world’s great international racing occasions. It ticks all the boxes with excellent prize money, a fantastic atmosphere, the best horsemen and exciting races, but the world class quality of the competitors is what really elevates the event to its status as the sport’s global year-end showcase.

“Once again, we are delighted that this year’s selected runners are of proven world class ability. We expect to see excellence at this event and with strong contenders like Hong Kong’s own incredible Beauty Generation, Japan’s Fine Needle, and European stars including Waldgeist and Latrobe, we can expect another thrilling afternoon of sport on 9 December.”

Hong Kong Cup

Only California Memory (2011 and 2012) has won the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup back-to-back and Time Warp faces a difficult task to emulate the little grey, with strong opposition entered from home and abroad.

Japan has won the race five times, most recently with A Shin Hikari (2015) and Maurice (2016), and that nation’s army of racing fans will be cheering on Sungrazer, Deirdre and Staphanos this time. Sungrazer heads in off a very good second in the G1 Tenno Sho (Autumn), while G1 heroine Deirdre warmed up with a G2 win over Vase contender Lys Gracieux.

Ireland’s one victory in the Cup came in 2004 with Alexander Goldrun and this time the Aga Khan’s Eziyra will fly the Irish tricolour. The four-year-old G2 winner has been placed behind the best fillies in Europe – Enable in last year’s G1 Irish Oaks and Sea Of Class in this year’s G1 Yorkshire Oaks.

The Hong Kong defence will include former Horse of the Year Werther who needs a LONGINES Hong Kong Cup win to complete a full set of Hong Kong majors at 2000m.

Hong Kong Mile

The incredible Beauty Generation has blown away all-comers at Sha Tin so far this season and took the great Good Ba Ba’s track record when successful in the G2 Jockey Club Mile last start. He is entered for a bid to become the first follow-up winner of the race since Good Ba Ba pulled off three in a row (2007-2009).

Hong Kong’s champion faces a strong overseas challenge. Japan’s Mozu Ascot won the G1 Yasuda Kinen in June and the Frankel colt had no luck in the run when down the field in the G1 Mile Championship last weekend; compatriot Persian Knight, victorious in that latter contest in 2017, finished a head second and aims towards Sha Tin in peak form. Vivlos won the G1 Dubai Turf at Meydan in 2017 and was second in the same race this year.

Britain’s One Master proved herself a top-class filly when delivering a determined deep run to win the G1 Prix de la Foret at Longchamp in October, with the Andre Fabre-trained galloper Inns Of Court a short-head second. The William Haggas-trained One Master was a close fifth in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Mile last time.

Hong Kong will also look to 2016 winner Beauty Only and Kranji Mile hero Southern Legend.

Hong Kong Sprint

Japan has only two G1 sprints on its calendar and Fine Needle completed the 1200m double in September, adding the Sprinters Stakes to his March victory in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen. The Godolphin galloper has evidently matured since running fourth in the G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize at Sha Tin in April.

There are no easy sprints at Sha Tin though and Japan’s standout will face a strong local contingent in what is expected to be a thrilling contest. Hot King Prawn is the latest local speed star and the grey heads into his first G1 test with nine wins from 10 starts, including an unblemished hat-trick this term against the best in town.

G1 July Cup fourth Sir Dancealot brings top European form to the race, while Lim’s Cruiser is set to be the first Singapore raider in the Sprint since Super Easy finished down the field behind the great Lord Kanaloa in 2012. The six-year-old won the SIN G1 Lion City Cup in May.

Mr Stunning took the prize last year and the consistent galloper was a half-length second to Hot Kong Prawn, under a 5lb penalty, in the G2 Jockey Club Sprint last Sunday. G1-placed Beat The Clock was third in that race, his first since April.

Ivictory won the G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize last term and is also among the selected runners, as is last season’s G1 Centenary Sprint Cup winner D B Pin.

Hong Kong Vase

Waldgeist earned his stripes as one of the world’s top middle-distance gallopers with four wins this year including the G1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and will attempt to give trainer Fabre a third Vase win. The four-year-old was a running-on fourth to Enable in the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in October.

European-trained runners have won 20 of the 24 editions of the Hong Kong Vase. Ireland is responsible for only two of those, thanks to the Aidan O’Brien-trained Highland Reel (2015 & 2017), but that nation has a strong hand this time.

O’Brien has last year’s G1 Irish Derby and G1 St Leger hero Capri in the field, while his son, Joseph O’Brien, is set to run Latrobe, this year’s Irish Derby victor and a close second in the G1 McKinnon Stakes (2000m) at Flemington earlier this month. O’Brien senior also has G1 Melbourne Cup fifth Rostropovich in the field.

Japan has the talented one-two from this month’s G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Kyoto, Lys Gracieux and Crocosmia.

Sir Michael Stoute took the Vase in 2000 with Daliapour and has engaged the progressive four-year-old Mirage Dancer. Prince Of Arran was third in the Melbourne Cup, while Salouen almost caused a shock when a head second to Cracksman in the G1 Coronation Cup in June and was an eye-catching sixth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Hong Kong last won the Vase with Dominant in 2013. The local team looks solid this time with recent G2 Jockey Club Cup one-two Eagle Way and Exultant, as well as the mercurial two-time G1 winner Pakistan Star, in the line-up.