Looking to Japan for Hong Kong Sprint, Mile winners
Impressive winner of the Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1) in late March, Big Arthur won a Group 2 first up in September, but then was shuffled back and offered no rally in the Sprinters S. (G1) at Nakayama finishing 12th. Otherwise, he's been a gem of consistency, victorious in eight of 12 starts. Showing lots of energy in his morning work on the Sha Tin all-weather Saturday, he figures to be a handful in Sunday's 1200-meter dash.
The best of the locals is seemingly Lucky Bubbles, a neck second to Chautauqua in the Chairman's Sprint Prize (G1) in May. Returning from a spell in October, he rallied to take the Premier Bowl and then was second in the Jockey Club Sprint, presumably serving as only a prep and not as a must-win. First or second in 10 of 13 outings in Hong Kong, he appears in peak form.
Australian invader Takedown has generated a lot of buzz all week, generally for his size. Tipping the scales at well over 1,3000 pounds, he has to be one of the heaviest runners around. He's also good, as evidenced by his first Group 1 score in the Winterbottom at Perth last time. While not overly dazzled by that performance, Takedown commands respect even on relatively short rest. Amazing Kids, another highly consistent local, was a nose behind Lucky Bubbles in the Premier Bowl and is not without a chance at juicy odds.
The Sprint verdict: 1. BIG ARTHUR, 2. LUCKY BUBBLES, 3. TAKEDOWN, 4. AMAZING KIDS
Highland Reel's presence in the Vase probably assures there will be no sweep of the HKIR by one country, but I wouldn't be surprised if Japan can win other three. Having gone on record with Maurice and Big Arthur, I'm leaning toward a longer shot in the Mile.
Notably the surprise conqueror of Maurice in the Yasuda Kinen (G1) back in June at odds of 36-1, Logotype is hardly the most consistent type. However, he's often been asked to run much farther distances than what is ideal, including his two return races in the 1800-meter Mainichi Okan (G2) and 2000-meter Tenno Sho Autumn (G1). Shortening up a quarter-mile and drawn in barrier two, he's expected to show early foot in the hopes of stealing this one just like the Yasuda Kinen.
Local fan favorite Able Friend, who won this race in 2014 and was third to Maurice last year, has had just the single prep, a fourth in the Jockey Club Sprint, after recovering from a tendon injury. The plan was for him to have two preps into the Mile, but time was not on his side. Thus, the immensely talented sort might fall just short of his goal if not at absolute peak fitness. Still, he's hard to exclude off tickets.
Satono Aladdin, fourth in the Yasuda Kinen and a hard-luck fifth in the Mile Championship (G1) last out, turned in an impressive piece of work on Thursday and could be ready to achieve a new high in this spot. Neorealism is another solid Japanese contender, perhaps the best with Ryan Moore in the saddle. Conqueror of Maurice in the Sapporo Kinen (G2), he was a close third in the Mile Championship and is obviously in the best form of his career.
The Mile verdict: 1. LOGOTYPE, 2. ABLE FRIEND, 3. SATONO ALADDIN, 4. NEOREALISM
There are six other races on the HKIR undercard, and here are my each-way selections:
Race 1: JING JING WIN (#4)
Race 2: UNICORN (#5)
Race 3: WINNER'S WAY (#3)
Race 6: BLIZZARD (#6)
Race 9: MR STUNNING (#9)
Race 10: PAKISTAN STAR (#5)
The finale is a 1600-meter Class 2 handicap that has yielded multiple future stars in Hong Kong, and both Pakistan Star and Western Express have tremendous upside. Pakistan Star's stirring stretch rallies went viral this fall, while Western Express won first-out impressively last month for leading trainer John Size. Here's Pakistan Star from earlier this year:
The HKIR card at Sha Tin kicks off at 11:25 p.m. (EST) Saturday night. Post times for the HKIR races are 1 a.m. (Vase), 1:40 (Sprint), 2:50 (Mile), and 3:30 (Cup). If you're not a night owl, advance wagering, as well as live video, through the night is available at TwinSpires.com. Stay tuned to @TwinSpires and @VPHanson for updates and pictoral scenes throughout the HKIR program.