Top-level winners from around the globe are set to contest the four Longines Hong Kong International Races Dec. 10 at Sha Tin, with foreign horses looking especially strong in this year’s renewal.
Ranging from the 1,200-meter (about three-quarters of a mile) Longines Hong Kong Sprint to the 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles) of the Longines Hong Kong Vase, the four Group 1 races represent the final stop of the year for globetrotting turf runners.
Those answering the call at the Dec. 7 post-position draw included two winners and several other competitors from the 2018 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar, five horses from the Coolmore operation in Ireland, a former South African champion, and a powerful contingent from Japan.
The Vase, in a departure from the norm, appears the classiest — and toughest — of the four races. The field includes Talismanic, winner of the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf, and the third-place finisher from that race, Highland Reel.
Highland Reel won the Vase in 2015 and finished second in 2016, nailed in the final yards by Japanese runner Satono Crown.
While the renewal of that rivalry is intriguing, there’s plenty of other competition in the race. Max Dynamite comes to Hong Kong fresh off a third-place finish in the Melbourne Cup and Tiberian enters the Vase after finishing seventh in Melbourne. Smart Call was a champion and multiple Group 1 winner in her homeland of South Africa but has struggled in England while trained by Sir Michael Stoute. Kiseki won the Kikuka Sho at Kyoto in his last start and, as a 3-year-old, gains a five-pound weight advantage over most of the others.
The Vase distance is rarely contested in Hong Kong and there is no local prep for the race. The home team, therefore, usually has less advantage in this event than any of the other three elite races program.
Helene Charisma has yet to win in Hong Kong in 11 starts but did capture the Grand Prix de Paris at Saint-Cloud at the same 2,400-meter trip before moving to Hong Kong. Trainer John Moore adds blinkers but jockey Sam Clipperton said the temperamental Helene Charisma’s chances in the Vase “depend on what side of the stable he wakes up on race morning.”
The Longines Hong Kong Sprint has gone to a local horse in seven of the past 10 years and Japan’s outstanding sprinter, Lord Kanaloa, accounted for two of the other renewals. While this year’s crew doesn’t look as dominant as in recent years, the locals once again look to have the upper hand.
Leading the Hong Kong contingent for the Sprint is Mr Stunning, winner of a Group 2 race on Nov. 19 that serves as the local prep for the international race. Lucky Bubbles, second in last year’s Sprint, chased Mr Stunning home in a prep race on Oct. 22.
Peniaphobia, the 2015 Sprint winner and third in last year’s renewal, returns for another try. Thewizardofoz, Amazing Kids, and Not Listenin’tome also are all proven group stakes performers on the local scene.
The overseas rivals include a rare American challenger, Stormy Liberal. The 5-year-old Stormy Atlantic gelding has won five of his last six starts, including most recently a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Del Mar Nov. 4. Brian Trump, racing manager for the owner, Rockingham Ranch, admitted the No. 11 post position he drew at the Sha Tin ceremony was “not ideal” for the sprint. “But it’s a crazy game,” he said, reporting Stormy Liberal was “better than before the Breeders’ Cup.”
Among others in the Sprint, French-based The Right Man won the Al Quoz Sprint Sponsored by Azizi Developments at Meydan on March 25 but has been less impressive since that triumph.
Japan sends Let’s Go Donki and Once In A Moon, the second- and third-place finishers in the Group 1 Sprinters Stakes on Oct. 1 at Nakayama.
The Longines Hong Kong Mile has been even more the province of local runners than the Sprint with nine of the last 10 renewals won by Hong Kong-based horses. This time around, a squadron led by Beauty Only, Beauty Generation, Helene Paragon, and Contentment will be well backed to keep this trophy safely home.
Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien has Lancaster Bomber and Roly Poly in the Mile. The former, a 3-year-old War Front colt, finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Roly Poly, a 3-year-old War Front filly, scored three Group 1 wins during the summer but was 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
O’Brien’s hopes to upset the home team in the Mile took a hit as Lancaster Bomber drew post-position No. 11 and Roly Poly got the outside stall in the 14-horse field.
France’s Karar, seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, also reappears in this field.
The Longines Hong Kong Cup, a 2,000-meter (about 1 ¼ miles) race with a relatively short run to the first turn on the Sha Tin turf, drew a competitive international field.
Deauville, third in each of the past two runnings of the Arlington Million Stakes, drew well in post No. 2 for trainer O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore. O’Brien also will saddle War Decree, who returns to the turf after finishing ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Neorealism, Staphanos, and Smart Layer carry the Japanese hopes in the Cup and Garlingari, seventh in the 2016 renewal, returns after a more successful season in France, including a victory in the Group 2 Prix Dollar at Chantilly on Sept 30.
Hong Kong’s hopes in the Cup rest primarily with Werther, the 2015-2016 Hong Kong Horse of the Year. His campaign last season was disrupted by injuries but the 6-year-old New Zealand-bred Tavistock gelding has had smooth sailing this season and won the local prep for this race.
“The pick of my horses running Sunday would be Werther—by a furlong,” said trainer Moore, who then drew an advantageous gate No. 3 for his star.—Bob Kieckhefer