Top-level winners from around the globe are set to contest 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 six furlongs) Longines Hong Kong Sprint (G1) to the 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles) of the Longines Hong Kong Vase (G1), the races represent the final stop of the year for globetrotting turf runners.
Those answering the call at the Dec. 7 barrier draw included two winners and several other competitors from the 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 (G1T), and the third-place finisher from that event, Highland Reel. Highland Reel won the Vase in 2015 and finished second in 2016, run down 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 (G1) and Tiberian enters the Vase after finishing seventh in Melbourne. Smart Call was a champion winner in her homeland, but struggled in England while trained by Sir Michael Stoute. Kiseki (JPN) won the Kikuka Sho (G1) at Kyoto in his last start and, as a 3-year-old, gains a five-pound weight swing from 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 on the group 1 program.
Helene Charisma (FR) has yet to win in Hong Kong in 11 starts, but did capture the Grand Prix de Paris (G1) at Saint-Cloud at the 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 (G1) has gone to a local horse in seven of the past 10 years and Japan's outstanding sprinter, Lord Kanaloa (JPN), 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 (AUS), winner of the BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint (G2) Nov. 19—the local prep for the international race. Lucky Bubbles (AUS), second in last year's Sprint, chased Mr Stunning home in the prep race Oct. 22.
Peniaphobia (IRE), the 2015 Sprint winner and third in last year's renewal, returns for another try. Thewizardofoz (AUS), Amazing Kids (NZ), and Not Listenin'tome (AUS) also are all proven graded 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, culminating in a victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1T) Nov. 4. Brian Trump, racing manager for the owner, Rockingham Ranch, admitted the post 11 he drew at the Sha Tin ceremony is "not ideal" for the sprint. "But it's a crazy game," he said, reporting Stormy Liberal "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 (G1) at Meydan 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 Sprinters Stakes (G1) Oct. 1 at Nakayama.
The Longines Hong Kong Mile (G1) 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 (IRE), Beauty Generation (NZ), Helene Paragon (FR), and Contentment (AUS) 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 (G1T). 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 gate 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 (G1), a 2,000-meter race with a relatively short run to the first turn over the Sha Tin turf, drew a nicely competitive international field.
Deauville, third in each of the past two runnings of the Arlington Million Stakes (G1T), drew well in post 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 (G1).
English-based Blond Me, winner of the E.P. Taylor Stakes (G1T) at Woodbine in her last outing, makes the final start of her career. Neorealism (JPN), Staphanos, and Smart Layer (JPN) 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 Sept 30 Prix Dollar (G2) at Chantilly.
Hong Kong's hopes in the Cup rest primarily with Werther (NZ), the 2015-16 Hong Kong Horse of the Year. His campaign last season was disrupted by injuries, but the 6-year-old New Zealand-bred Tavistock gelding 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 the advantageous gate 3 for his star.