Overview of projected fields for Hong Kong International Races
HONG KONG VASE (G1) (about 1 1/2 miles)
Defending champion Flintshire (left) seeks to add to France’s record trophy haul (10) in this race. A smashing winner of the Sword Dancer (G1) over the summer, he comes off his second straight runner-up effort in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. (G1). Fellow French shippers are the nine-year-old Cirrus des Aigles, whose glittering career is drawing to a close, and progressive Group 2-winning sophomores Dariyan and Ming Dynasty. Aidan O’Brien dispatches Secretariat (G1) romper Highland Reel, last seen finishing third in Australia’s coveted Cox Plate (G1), while the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Cannock Chase exits a career-best victory in the Canadian International (G1). Preferment, the 2014 Victoria Derby (G1) winner who added the Turnbull (G1) this season, must improve off his Australian form. German filly Lovelyn was expected to complete the international team, but she was unfortunately ruled out Monday with a soft tissue injury.
Hong Kong’s squadron is led by Dominant, who famously upset The Fugue in the 2013 Vase and was fourth to Flintshire last December. Helene Super Star (formerly known as Lines of Battle) just denied Dominant and Helene Happy Star in the circuit’s premier race at this distance in the spring, the Champions and Chater Cup (G1). The remaining Hong Kong trio – Khaya (third in the 2014 Vase), Ensuring and Harbour Master – only gained admission after the withdrawals of more highly rated internationals.
HONG KONG SPRINT (G1) (about six furlongs)
The locals have historically had a stranglehold on this race, with 11 wins on the board. Converted miler Gold-Fun ranks as the top Hong Kong hope on the strength of convincing wins in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize (G1) as well as the recent prep, the Jockey Club Sprint (G2). The respective second through sixth in that same prep are back for the main event -- Peniaphobia, who was a bang-up second to Aerovelocity in the 2014 Hong Kong Sprint (as pictured on right); Not Listenin’tome, twice a Group 1 placegetter in his prior career in Australia; former two-time champion sprinter Lucky Nine, victorious in the 2011 Hong Kong Sprint; Charles the Great; and the troubled Strathmore. Rounding out the locals are Dundonnell, seventh in the prep, and Rich Tapestry, better known for his prowess on dirt (remember the 2014 Santa Anita Sprint Championship [G1] over Goldencents?) and synthetic.
U.S. fans have rooting interests in the form of Mongolian Saturday and Green Mask, the respective winner and third-placer in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Keeneland. But the bigger danger could come from closer to home in Japan’s Straight Girl, who was a terrific third from post 13 in this race a year ago (you can see her pretty head just coming into the photo). Even stronger this time around, she just garnered the Sprinters (G1) from compatriots Sakura Gospel and Mikki Isle. Irish veteran Sole Power, a world-class operator over five furlongs, hasn’t had any success going the added distance here. Ninth in 2011 and again in 2014, he was nevertheless runner-up behind the imperious Lord Kanaloa in the 2013 edition.
HONG KONG MILE (G1)
Hong Kong has likewise ruled supreme in the Mile, having won a record 12 overall and the last nine straight, and defending champion Able Friend (left) aims to keep the locals’ streak intact. But his own personal dominance of this strip came to a screeching halt when the reigning Horse of the Year was only third to Beauty Flame and Contentment in the local prep, the Jockey Club Mile (G2). Others exiting that tune-up are the rallying fourth Giant Treasure, Rewarding Hero (seventh) and pacesetter Secret Sham (last of nine). Romantic Touch got a late call-up, but warrants his place as an Australian Group 1 winner as a juvenile who has useful pieces of form since coming to Hong Kong.
The last nation to defeat Hong Kong in this race was Japan, all the way back in 2005 with Hat Trick. The Japanese contingent again looms large with Maurice, who boasts a five-race winning skein including the rare Yasuda Kinen (G1)/Mile Championship (G1) double; Fiero, second in the past two Mile Championships but sixth to Able Friend here last December; and Danon Platina, last year’s Japanese champion two-year-old colt who’s unbeaten from four career starts at a mile. Two internationals were last seen in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) – Mondialiste, the Woodbine Mile (G1) hero who was best of the rest behind Tepin at Keeneland, and star French mare Esoterique, who had been in career-best form until floundering in seventh. English shipper Toormore has a couple of Group 2 scores and Group 1 placings to his credit this campaign, but he’s got to find a way to beat Esoterique. German-based Red Dubawi earned a first Group 1 laurel in the Premio Vittorio di Capua (G1) last out, but appears to have his work cut out for him among these.
HONG KONG CUP (G1) (about 1 1/4 miles)
Although there’s been more parity between the Hong Kong runners and the invaders overall in the Cup, past results have tended to be streaky. That trend may favor the locals at the moment, and defending champion Designs on Rome could make it five in a row for the home team. Sidelined by arthroscopic surgery for bone chips, the former Hong Kong Horse of the Year returned with a fast-finishing sixth in the Jockey Club Mile. Multiple Group 1-winning stablemate Dan Excel was a tiring eighth. The other Hong Kong contenders all prepped in the Jockey Club Cup (G2), where Military Attack edged QEII Cup (G1) star Blazing Speed and Classic Mile winner Beauty Only. Military Attack, a former Horse of the Year himself, was last year’s near-misser in this race (as pictured in the green silks, nabbed by Designs on Rome on right).
Interestingly, the leading international, Free Eagle, has something in common with Designs on Rome, other than their distance preference. Both were bred by Moyglare Stud. Free Eagle captured the Prince of Wales’s (G1) at Royal Ascot and might have given Golden Horn something to think about if he hadn’t gotten body-slammed in the Irish Champion (G1). Japan sends out Staphanos, runner-up in both the QEII Cup here in April and in the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) in his latest; high-class filly Nuovo Record, who just missed in Kyoto’s Queen Elizabeth II (G1) for the second straight year; the improving Satono Aladdin, who steps up in trip off his rattling fourth to Maurice in the Mile Championship; and front runner extraordinaire A Shin Hikari, winner of eight of 10 lifetime. Australia is double-handed with multiple Group 1 victor Criterion, third in last year’s Cup as well as the QEII Cup in his two prior Sha Tin appearances, and the mare Lucia Valentina, a two-time Group 1 queen from 2014 whose form isn’t as compelling. France fields Free Port Lux, arguably in his best form after taking the Prix Dollar (G2), and Gailo Chop, who had to go to Australia to earn his first Group 1 title in the recent Mackinnon (G1).
We'll dig deeper into these races toward the end of the week, after emerging from the film room.
All photos courtesy Hong Kong Jockey Club.