By Bob Kieckhefer
The Dec. 11 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races have enough subplots to keep any racing fan guessing.
There's a rematch of the near dead-heat in last month's Melbourne Cup (Aus-I); the first serious raid on Hong Kong by the powerful Juddmonte Farms operation; and chances for several horses who have been knocking on the door of international stardom to either walk past those portals or sink back into also-ran status.
And, as always, there is the almost insuperable bias in favor of the local team, especially in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint (HK-I).
While it's not exactly Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral or Sunday Silence vs. Easy Goer, a rematch of the Melbourne first- and second-place finishers adds zest to the 2,400-meter Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase (HK-I). The British-based Red Cadeaux is the one with something to prove, as he missed by a whisker to French-based Dunaden at Flemington.
Trained by Ed Dunlop, Red Cadeaux finished a close third behind Duncan in the Irish St Leger (Ire-I) over 2,800 meters at the Curragh as a prep for Australia. Dunaden, trained by Mikel Delzangles, won a group III at Longchamp in April, then prepped for the Melbourne Cup with a win in the 2,400-meter Geelong Cup (Aus-III) on Oct. 19.
Challengers in the Vase include Redwood, who was second last year behind Mastery; Thumbs Up, who won the local prep; and Campanologist, who will try to make it two in a row for Godolphin in the day's longest race.
In a subplot to the subplot, Australian rider Craig Williams will be back aboard Dunaden on Sunday after missing the winning ride in the Melbourne Cup when he was unable to overturn a suspension. That assignment went to Christophe Lemaire, to Williams' great frustration. After working Dunaden at Sha Tin earlier this week, the rider commented, "I have such a great relationship with the horse. He just runs for me."
Lemaire will ride the French-based Vadamar on Sunday.
The race is fairly wide open and, with the late scratch of the local front-runner Super Pistachio, may go at a plodding early pace. That would open the door for a wild finish in the final few hundred meters after the second right-hand turn.
Juddmonte's Raid on Hong Kong
For the first time in the history of the Hong Kong International races, an owner will have a starter in each of the four events. Khalid Abdullah, master of Juddmonte Farms, has that honor--although fate did him no favors in assigning three of his runners gate No. 12 at Thursday's barrier draw.
Juddmonte's racing manager, Teddy Grimthorpe, called the Hong Kong International meeting "vital" to world recognition. "It is beautifully placed in the calendar, fantastically organized and the great opportunity for the northern and southern hemispheres to clash," he said before the barrier draw.
"This is a stunning compliment from an owner like Khalid Abdullah," added Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, CEO of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Engelbrecht-Bresges noted the Prince has participated in past meetings. "But to have a runner in each race is fantastic."
He also noted such international operations as Godolphin, the Aga Khan and the Wildensteins have been supportive over the years. And, perhaps in recruitment mode, added, "Coolmore is aware that it is important to be here, too. And it is just the case of having the right horse for the right race."
Locals Have Dominated Sprint, Mile
Anyone looking to make a good impression in Hong Kong should think twice before trying the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint (HK-I) or the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile (HK-I).
Invaders have taken turns winning the Vase. In the past 10 years, the United Arab Emirates, France, England and Japan all have been victorious without a Hong Kong horse finding the winner's circle.
The Cup is anyone's game. Hong Kong hasn't lifted that prize since Vengeance of Rain turned the trick in 2005.
But, with the exception of last year, when South Africa's J J the Jet Plane nipped Singapore's Rocket Man on the wire, the Sprint has been the preserve of the locals. All eight runnings between 2002 and 2009 were won by Hong Kong horses, usually with their fellow stay-at-homes close in attendance. Overall, Hong Kong has taken down nine of the 12 runnings and 15 of the 24 placings (second or third in local parlance).
The Mile isn't a much better prospect. Hong Kong has won the last five running of that race, eight of the 20 victories and 19 of the 40 placings.