Maurice, A Shin Hikari continue to shine ahead of Sha Tin showdown
HONG KONG - One thing that has gone perfectly this trip is the weather. Granted, I've only been here a little over two days, but you couldn't have picked a nicer morning for Thursday's trackwork at Sha Tin. And the forecast continues to look good through Sunday's Hong Kong International Races (HKIR).
The Japanese contingent, most of whom exercised on the all-weather Wednesday, took center stage on the grass today putting in their final serious prep work. The two biggest stars, A Shin Hikari and Maurice, both turned in solid breezes, the latter in company with Staphanos.
A Shin Hikari acted more professional compared to the previous day, and appears to be coming into Sunday's Hong Kong Cup (G1) as well as you could ask. The defending titlist in the 2000-meter test, he enjoyed another nice gift later in the morning by drawing post 1 for the Cup at the HKIR barrier draw, held in the covered, amphitheater-like parade ring. With a short run to the first turn, A Shin Hikari is sure to show his customary speed from that advantageous starting place.
Japanese Horse of the Year Maurice had another strong morning and, admittedly, has been the apple of my eye the last couple of days. Hero of last year's Hong Kong Mile (G1), he'll face off against A Shin Hikari in the Cup, which will be a rematch of their recent battle in the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1), won by Maurice. A Shin Hikari was nowhere near his best that day, and could perk up returning to Sha Tin. But for more than a week I've been firmly in the Maurice camp, and nothing I've seen from him the last two mornings has swayed me.
Others from Japan I've taken a liking to this week are Lovely Day and Logotype. Lovely Day, the 2015 Tenno Sho Autumn winner, is in particularly deep facing A Shin Hikari and Maurice in the Cup. The beaten favorite in last year's Japan Cup (G1), Lovely Day has gone unplaced in all but one of his five starts this term, that being a Group 2 a couple starts back. It's hard to envision him turning things completely around against the top pair, but has made a favorable impression and is a certain to get ground better than what he encountered in his last run at Sha Tin in April.
Logotype, a rich, dark bay, also exits the Tenno Sho Autumn, but is cutting back for the Mile (G1) after running a solid fifth as a 43-1 longshot in the October 30 Tokyo feature. One of only two Japanese representatives to stay on the all-weather Thursday, he's not the most reliable at picking up one of the bigger checks, thus looks can be deceiving. However, trainer Tsuyoshi Tanaka had to be pleased with the barrier draw results as his six-year-old drew post 2.
Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) winner Highland Reel, the heavy favorite for the Hong Kong Vase (G1), enjoyed a gallop on the all-weather and would have to regress unexpectedly to be denied a second consecutive win in the 2400-meter race.
One horse that did not come out today was the lone HKIR shipper from the U.S., Pure Sensation. Scheduled to exercise on the all-weather, Pure Sensation reportedly popped an abscess Tuesday evening and stayed in the barn. The hope is he'll be good to go on Sunday, but this issue on top of his work earlier this week, which called into question his ability to handle a right turn effectively, was another red flag his connections did not need in advance of the Sprint (G1).