Fantastic Light captures the Man O' War Stakes at Belmont Park.

Fantastic Light captures the Man O' War Stakes at Belmont Park.

Associated Press / NYRA / Adam Coglianese

Nine Horses Represent U.S. in Hong Kong

Most of the nine-horse American contingent for the Dec. 17 Hong Kong International Races have settled into Sha Tin Racecourse after traveling this week. Sprinters Big Jag and Morluc were the first to arrive on Monday, with the Christophe Clement trainees, Craigsteel, Charge d'Affaires, and Forbidden Apple scheduled in on the afternoon of Dec. 8.

The three group I races, the Mile, Vase, and Cup, and the group III Sprint, will offer total purse money of just over US$5 million, plus travel expenses, making the trip a tempting one.

Big Jag is only one of two of the American group to have made the trip in the past. In 1997 Val's Prince won the Cup, then a group II race. This year Val's Prince and fellow American representative Craigsteel will go in the 1 1/2-mile Vase, which is worth $1.3 million.

Last year Big Jag finished just over two lengths behind Fairy King Prawn in third in the Sprint, but this year that rival will contest the Mile. In addition, owner John Zolezzi said the horse "told us," meaning him and trainer Tim Pinfield, he was ready for the trip.

"He's been training very well of late," Zolezzi said. "He wasn't quite ready for the Breeders' Cup and we didn't want to send him in there is he wasn't 110%, but he is that now. He's a real good traveler -- that's one of the reasons we did decided to send him." The five furlong sprint is worth $775,000 and will be contested on the turf.

Taking on Fairy King Prawn will be Americans Charge d'Affaires, Native Desert, and Princess Ellen. Charges d'Affaires is the only group I winner among them, but that was in 1997, the Prix Morny Piaget. His last two races were the 8 1/2 furlong Citation (gr. IIT), which he won by a nose, and the nine-furlong Knickerbocker (gr. IIT) which he won by three-quarters of a length.

The Cup is the final race in the Emirates World Series, and presents a fine field to compete for the $1.8 million up for grabs. Samum and Fantastic Light both have 12 points in the World Series, and could win the whole thing, if they take the Cup. However, Australia's Shogun Lodge, a two-time group I winner, and seasoned warrior Jim and Tonic from France, and Clement's Forbidden Apple are among the horses who could ruin their chances.