Selections (and Longshots) for the Hong Kong International Races

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December 13th, 2014

As a follow-up to my four Hong Kong features on, here is a more streamlined guide to help sort out the contenders in the International Races (HKIR) at Sha Tin. The Group 1 bonanza is held late Saturday night into the wee hours of Sunday morning U.S. time, and I've noted the scheduled post times for each race.

All four feature deep and talented fields, making them fantastic spectacles as well as profitable betting opportunities. For the same reason, you can make a case for quite a lot of contenders, and there are precious few easy tosses in these competitive events.

Going in race order, I've categorized the principal runners according to the following schema: my top pick, key contenders, exotic players and a (hopefully) live longshot.

4TH Race (1 a.m. ET) Hong Kong Vase, about 1 1/2 miles

Top pick: #1 FLINTSHIRE. The Arc and BC Turf runner-up isn't invincible, but he's just got way too much going for him.

Key contenders: #12 SNOW SKY, a Sir Michael Stoute improver who needs to buck the historical stat against three-year-old males in this race, and #5 RED CADEAUX, who hasn't won since the 2012 Vase but always runs well here and just finished second in the Melbourne Cup for the third time.

Exotics players: #4 EMPOLI, a talented German colt who fits well based on his Dubai form, and #2 DOMINANT, the defending champion who is coming into his title defense just about the same way as last year.

Longshot: #8 WILLIE CAZALS traded decisions with Dominant in the spring of 2013 and is ready to peak here for all-time HKIR leading trainer Tony Cruz.

Much more background on these runners, as well as Japan's Curren Mirotic and Ireland's Parish Hall, is available in my Vase feature at this link.

5TH Race (1:40 a.m. ET) Hong Kong Sprint, about six furlongs

Top pick: #9 AEROVELOCITY. This represents my lowest degree of confidence, since there are probably about a dozen who could legitimately win, but he was on a roll before getting butchered on the rail last time and will bring his "A" game.

Key contenders: #5 BUFFERING, a four-time Australian Group 1 winner, might have been the top pick but for a foot problem this week that he's reportedly over; #1 LUCKY NINE, the 2011 winner who's been unplaced in the last two editions of this race but brings strong credentials; #4 STERLING CITY, the Dubai Golden Shaheen winner; and #8 PENIAPHOBIA, who won the roughly-run local prep but must make history to become the race's first-ever three-year-old winner.

Exotics players: #6 GORDON LORD BYRON, a three-time Group 1-winning globetrotter who tries this race after finishing fourth in the past two runnings of the HK Mile, and #3 SOLE POWER, Ireland's Horse of the Year who's more dangerous over shorter but was second here last year and will be flying late.

Longshot: #2 SPALATO was literally unbeatable in Singapore before an ill-timed injury cost him dearly in his Hong Kong debut. I'm being very stubborn to keep the faith here because post 11 is a big negative, but his good early speed could minimize the damage.

The whole puzzle, including the Japanese trio of Snow Dragon, Straight Girl and Little Gerda, is explored in my Sprint feature at this link.

7TH Race (2:50 a.m. ET) Hong Kong Mile

Top pick: #1 ABLE FRIEND. Anyone who's seen his smashing performances over this course and distance, crowned by the local prep in his latest, can't oppose him.

Key contenders: #9 WORLD ACE, a top-quality Japanese runner who will easily outperform his odds if he breaks well, and #6 FIERO, another blueblood from Japan who probably should have won Kyoto's Mile Championship last time.

Exotics players: #2 GOLD-FUN, the runner-up in this race last year who could seize an early initiative, and #3 GLORIOUS DAYS, the defending champion who will be closing down the lane. #5 AMBITIOUS DRAGON belongs here on merit, but the 2012 Mile star is currently under an injury cloud.

Longshot: #4 GRAND PRIX BOSS is a hit-or-miss type, but when he's on, this former Japanese champion two-year-old colt is a world-class miler.

My Mile feature profiles these runners, along with the English duo of Trade Storm and Captain Cat.

8TH Race (3:30 a.m. ET) Hong Kong Cup, about 1 1/4 miles

Top pick: #2 DESIGNS ON ROME. Reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year won the local Derby as well as the QE II Cup over internationals here in the spring, and has raced his way into shape for this major fall objective.

Key contenders: #3 MILITARY ATTACK, Hong Kong's previous Horse of the Year who is perhaps sitting on his best-ever HKIR effort, and #1 CIRRUS DES AIGLES, who would be the one to beat if he can ever find a way to translate his stellar form from elsewhere here (note that he's also under a last-minute injury scare).

Exotics players: #9 ARCHIMEDES, a Japanese runner who was rapidly progressing before going on vacation and returns here by design, and #4 BLAZING SPEED, winner of two major races at Sha Tin earlier this year and most recently successful in the local prep.

Longshot: #6 CRITERION is usually the kind of Australian router I'd be wary of venturing into deep Group 1 waters abroad, but I can't get over the notion that this Rosehill Guineas/Australian Derby hero is above average. While I concede that he finished behind #8 FARRAAJ (a Roger Varian trainee that I could be underestimating) last time, Criterion was wheeling back just a week after a better-than-appears seventh in the Cox Plate (where he fluffed the start). And he's since been switched to trainer David Hayes.

For more analysis, and the saga around Criterion, see my Cup feature.

Best of luck!