Hong Kong International Raceday: Trends for 2021

Profile Picture: Alastair Bull

December 9th, 2021

There aren’t many racedays around the world that match Hong Kong International Day. Perhaps only Dubai World Cup Day, Royal Ascot, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe Day, and the Breeders’ Cup are as strong a magnet for international horses as the four Group 1 races up for grabs here.

Hong Kong racing has also become much stronger over the years. Horses trained in Hong Kong have won international events in Japan, Singapore, Dubai, and Royal Ascot, and they have proved extremely hard to beat in their own international races.

However, as with the Breeders’ Cup, some of the races have brought much more success for international raiders than others. Generally, the greater the distance, the more competitive the internationals have been - partly because many Hong Kong-trained horses hail from Australia, whose breeding industry is more oriented toward turf sprinters than any other.

The International day became a four-race event in 1999, and this article will look at trends since that year.

Hong Kong International Sprint

First raced over 1000 meters in 1999, it became a 1200-meter (about six-furlong) race in 2006, and it has been dominated by locally-trained gallopers. Of the 22 previous editions, only six have been won by horses trained outside Hong Kong.

Four of those six went to two horses: Australia’s Falvelon (2000-01), when Hong Kong racing was arguably still on the improve, and Lord Kanaloa (2012-13), arguably Japan’s greatest sprinter. South African J J the Jet Plane, who also won major races in Dubai, took the event in 2010.

The last of those six, however, came just last year, when Japan’s Danon Smash – a son of the aforementioned Lord Kanaloa – drove home to win by a length.

Danon Smash’s form has been patchy since then, but aiding his prospects is another vital statistic: there have already been six double victors of this race. Apart from Falvelon and Lord Kanaloa, the dual winners were Silent Witness, Sacred Kingdom, Aerovelocity, and Mr Stunning.

The only internationals competing this year are Japanese runners; in addition to Danon Smash there is the three-year-old colt Pixie Knight and the four-year-old filly Resistencia. All have won good races this year, and there doesn’t appear to be much between them.

The in-form local has been Lucky Patch, winner of a pair of Group 2 races leading into this. The best local sprinter in the last 12 months has probably been Wellington, and though he finished seventh to Lucky Patch in the Jockey Club Sprint (G2) Nov. 21, he was just three lengths away and was conceding the field five pounds.

BEST PLAY: Lucky Patch (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong International Mile

Five of the first seven winners of this 1600m (about one mile) race were foreigners: Docksider (Great Britain, 1999), Sunline (New Zealand, 2000), Eishin Preston (Japan, 2001), Firebreak (Britain/UAE, 2004), and Hat Trick (Japan, 2005). Only Olympic Express (2002) and Lucky Owners (2003) scored for Hong Kong.

Since 2006, however, it’s been nearly all one-way traffic for the locals. Of the 15 editions since then, just two have been won by foreigners, and both went to Japan: the outstanding Maurice in 2015, and Admire Mars in 2019.

Japan provides four entrants this year: Danon Kingly, Indy Champ, Salios, and Vin de Garde. The latter, who ran 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), is the only one of the Japanese quartet without a Group 1 victory.

Chasing a first win in the race for Ireland is Aidan O’Brien, who saddles the hardy filly Mother Earth, a dual Group 1 winner in Europe prior to finishing 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Facing them is the outstanding local Golden Sixty, last year’s winner. He’s won 18 of his 19 races and is shooting for his 16th consecutive victory. He’s never won by more than two lengths, but he doesn’t stop winning and is well placed to extend the record of the locals.

BEST PLAY: Golden Sixty (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong International Cup

This 2000m (about 1 1/4-miles) event has been a much more internationally competitive race in its history than the Sprint or the Mile. In the 11 editions from 1999 to 2010, the only local victories went to Vengeance of Rain (2005) and Precision (2002).

However, the last 10 victors have all been from Asia: six from Hong Kong, and four from Japan, including the last two (Win Bright, Normcore).

Japan has the favorite to win again in the form of Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) winner Loves Only You; she already has form in Hong Kong courtesy of winning the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) in April. Lei Papale and Hishi Iguazu are good-class horses but clearly don’t have the record of Loves Only You.

Europe attempts to regain its mojo in the race with three high-quality gallopers. Two last competed in the Champion S. (G1) at Ascot: runner-up Dubai Honour and third-placegetter Mac Swiney, the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) winner. Both may need rain, however. The third European, Belmont Derby (G1) winner Bolshoi Ballet, ran well for sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) and may appreciate the step back to 2000m.

Despite their recent record, there is no standout among the locals, and their main lead-up race, the Jockey Club Cup (G2), was run at a farcical tempo and won’t be much of a guide. They can’t be underestimated but will need to improve to win here.

BEST PLAY: Loves Only You (Japan)

Hong Kong International Vase

Not surprisingly for a 2400m (about 1 1/2-mile) turf race, the Vase has been the best race for foreigners among the international races. Indeed, since 1999 there have been only two locally-trained victors: Dominant (2013) and Exultant (2018).

France has a particularly strong record in the race with eight victories, though the most recent was in 2014 with the well-traveled Flintshire, while Britain has five. Both countries are represented here: Britain by the popular Coronation Cup (G1) winner Pyledriver, and France by the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1) runner-up Ebaiyra.

Aidan O’Brien has won three of the last six races for Ireland, with Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Highland Reel (2015, 2017) and Mogul (2020). Mogul hasn’t had such a great 2021, failing to win in four starts, but he is back for another go this year.

Japanese horses have also won the race three times, the most recent being in 2019 with the appropriately-named Glory Vase, who is back again this year. He finished second to Loves Only You in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup in April and looks a better prospect than the other Japanese runner, Stay Foolish.

Hong Kong has three potential prospects, but as in the Hong Kong Cup, they will need to improve to figure here. The best is probably last year’s third-place finisher Columbus County.

BEST PLAY: Pyledriver (Great Britain)