After the soaking rain of the past week, Sha Tin stood radiant beneath sun drenched blue skies Thursday morning as the candidates for Sunday's Hong Kong International Races (HKIR) stepped out for exercise.
The majority of overseas raiders took advantage of the conditions to stride out on the turf course, with a handful enjoying light canters on the dirt track.
California Memory, hero of last year's Group 1 Hong Kong Cup, readied for a title defense run in that 2000-meter event by working 800 meters on the main track in :57 4/5. The six-year-old son of Highest Honor covered the final 400 meters in :26 2/5.
"I'm very happy with him and everything is going according to plan," trainer Tony Cruz said. "He's in excellent condition for Sunday."
California Memory is exiting a win over the local turf in the Group 2 Jockey Club Cup, a race he finished fourth in last year prior to his Hong Kong Cup triumph.
Rival Cirrus des Aigles took to the turf course on Thursday, getting 1200 meters in 1:21 1/5. The multiple Group 1-winning son of Even Top posted a time of :28 1/5 for his final 400 meters.
"We decided to stay in the Trotting Ring (Wednesday) because we wanted to stay away from the dirt track and he had worked on the turf so we did not want to spoil our opportunities to use the turf course," traveling lad Zoe Gargoulaud explained. "He did not have to do much today even though he's very keen and could need a bit of work.
"It has not been an easy preparation here with this weather. The horse keeps on changing. He stays at home in Chantilly in winter so his surroundings remain the same yet he's a different individual every season. As you can see, he's not a fine trotter. The whole family is the same. It does not matter really, does it?
"I think today's canter was needed and I hope he does well on Sunday."
Cirrus des Aigles will be making his third appearance in the Hong Kong Cup, and his fourth overall in the HKIR. The six-year-old gelding ran fifth behind California Memoria in last year's edition of the Cup, filled the seventh spot behind Snow Fairy in 2010 and was fifth in the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase in 2009.
He has yet to finish worse than second in six starts this season, most recently running second to equine star Frankel in the Group 1 Champions at Ascot in late October.
Italian Group 2 scorer and Cup hopeful Feuerblitz took a spin on the turf Thursday and is scheduled for a blow-out on Friday, according to trainer Michael Figge.
"He's in good condition both mentally and physically," Figge noted. "He was a little tired when he arrived but since day three here he has kept on improving. He did some light work two days ago and will have a blow-out (Friday)."
Group 1 hero Gordon Lord Byron turned 1200 grassy in 1:23 2/5 under William Buick in advance of Sunday's Group 1 Hong Kong Mile. The four-year-old gelding galloped out his final 400 meters in :22 2/5.
"He worked well this morning and I'm very pleased with him," trainer Tom Hogan said. "He traveled well and he's in good order. He loves good firm ground and we don't get much of that at home but hopefully we'll get it here on Sunday if the rain stays away."
Gordon Lord Byron hasn't competed beyond seven furlongs since a fifth-place run at Cork in October 2011, but Hogan isn't concerned about the stretch out for the bay son of Byron.
"I don't think the 'mile' (1600 meters) will be an issue for him," the horseman asserted. "He's just kept on improving this season. I think he probably has to improve again to win on Sunday but we'll see. We had to give him his chance because he's done so well."
Gordon Lord Byron is exiting a win in the Group 1 Prix de la Foret over heavy going at Longchamp, and was second prior to that one in the Group 1 Haydock Sprint Cup on the firm turf at Haydock.
"I know he won last time in heavy ground at Longchamp, but I don't think he is ground dependant," Buick remarked. "Probably his best run of all this year was in the Haydock Sprint, and the ground was firm that day. I don't think a mile round here will be a problem for him. I think he deserves to be in this race."
"She was first out this morning. There are some privileges which come with my age," trainer Francois Doumen quipped.
"I was very happy with her work. Every time she has raced this year she has made a major improvement and hopefully that will continue on Sunday. She handled the flight from Toronto very well. She regained weight immediately after her arrival and she has the ideal temperament for travel."
Siyouma competed at Woodbine in her last race, taking the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor by 1 3/4 lengths, and entered that contest off a three-quarter length victory in Newmarket's Group 1 Sun Chariot on September 29.
"She did beat a very good field when she won at Newmarket and I am surprised she is not rated higher than she is," Doumen mused. "She covers a lot of ground when she gallops and this has been a lucky track for me so I am looking forward to the weekend.
"We had the choice of running in the Cup or the Mile. I preferred the Mile which I think is the better option for her at this stage even though the longer trip is no issue for her. I'm very happy with her, and I think it was the right thing to do in not going to Japan with her for the Mile Championship, and having her a fresh horse here.
"Her coat is very shiny, which is a good sign in a female. She is stoic and was unruffled by the traveling -- in fact she's the perfect traveler. I think this track is right for her also, and Sha Tin is a great track where the best horse usually wins. I would also like to say that you have the cleanest racing in the world, here in Hong Kong."
Mile hopeful Don Bosco, a dual French Group 3 winner, galloped 800 meters on the turf under Olivier Peslier in :53 4/5 for trainer David Smaga."He enjoys his traveling and as many matured older horses do he has settled down very well here," Smaga smiled. "I couldn't be happier with him."
The Barathea five-year-old brings a win in the Group 3 Prix Perth into the Mile, and was fifth behind Cirrus des Aigles in the Group 2 Prix Dollar before that.
Grade/Group 1 conqueror Chinchon traveled in 1:26 for 1200 meters on the turf Thursday, getting his final 400 meters in :25 in advance of Sunday's Group 1 Hong Kong Vase.
"He's well and relatively fresh, considering it is December," trainer Carlos Laffon-Parias remarked. "I think he should go well but I thought Sea Moon looked particularly well and he'll be a big danger. Chinchon is versatile, he's won going left handed at Saint-Cloud, in America and in Singapore, but he's won on right handed tracks too."
Chinchon shipped to the United States in 2010 to take the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park, and two back added the Group 1 Singapore Airlines International Cup this resume. The Marju seven-year-old, who was fifth last out in a Group 2 in France, is no stranger to Sha Tin, having run eighth in the Group 1 QEII Cup over the course over the spring and fourth in that same race in 2009.
"He gave me a good feel. I didn't ask him to do too much but he was OK. He knows the track better than me," said jockey Olivier Doleuze, who was aboard for the move.
Multiple Group 1 winner Meandre covered 1200 meters in 1:23 4/5 for the Vase, a race the Slickly four-year-old will try to rebound in following a subpar 12th in the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on October 7.
"He did not go out on the track on Tuesday because we wanted to give him as much time as we could to recover from the travel," explained Richard Lambert, head traveling lad to trainer Andre Fabre. "(On Wednesday), the dirt was sloppy and he simply cantered around slowly. We went to the turf today and he looked good.
"He's an easy horse to deal with and should like the ground here. People seemed to say he liked soft ground but it is a wrong assumption. He likes fast ground very much. There is something about him. When he's in good form, he becomes tense just before the race. He bucks and keeps his head high. On Arc day, he had switched off. I don't know what happened."
Red Cadeaux, third in last year's Vase, got 1200 meters on the green in 1:26 2/5 while galloping out his final 400 meters in :25 1/5 for trainer Ed Dunlop. The Cadeaux Genereux gelding, who ran eighth in the Japan Cup most recently, will once again try to add that elusive first Group 1 score to his record Sunday.
"The horse is in better shape than he was in Japan," Dunlop stated. "He had a nice easy hit out this morning. I am not too concerned that he's lost any zest for it (racing) after what I saw this morning. He may lack the class of one or two of his rivals but he's a tough, old street-fighter and he'll give his all."
Jaguar Mail will attempt to snap a losing streak that dates back to May 2010 when he lines up in Sunday's Vase. The eight-year-old son of Jungle Pocket worked on the turf Thursday, touring 800 meters in :56 3/5. He was just seen in the Grade 1 Japan Cup, where he finished 10th, on November 25.
"This race comes only two weeks after the Japan Cup, so he only went steadily over 400 meters (Thursday)," said Jaguar Mail's groom, Masanori Watanabe. "He went nicely and looks like he is getting back to good form. He has settled in and feels at home."
Local hopeful Scarlet Camellia, who just stepped up to face this level of competition in his last two, turned 800 meters in :49 under Zac Purton in company with President Lincoln. The Spartacus five-year-old posted his final 400 meters in :22 2/5.
"He is working nicely but it will be his first start at 2400 meters and it will be difficult against Group 1 horses, it's a really big step up in class," trainer Danny Shum admitted.
Sea Siren, a multiple Group 1 winner in her native Australia, readied for Sunday's Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint with a 1200-meter move in 1:25 2/5 on Thursday. The four-year-old daughter of Fastnet Rock scampered her last 400 meters in :24 3/5.
"I was pleased with her this morning," trainer John O'Shea said. "On Tuesday she was a bit fresh and wanted to rip and tear. Today she was much more relaxed. I only wanted her to stretch her legs, not break any records. She's well."