Short-priced Highland Reel, Maurice likely to achieve HKIR glory again
Highland Reel, coming off a tour-de-force, wire-to-wire victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) over Flintshire, is sure to be an odds-on choice to defend his Vase crown, which was also won at the expense of Flintshire 12 months ago. The globetrotting colt from Coolmore and trainer Aidan O'Brien would have to take a serious step back to lose, and all indications from his track work this week suggests it's probably not in the cards.
On form, the rest of the European contingent appears poised to snare the minor placings as well. One Foot in Heaven, who dropped two earlier decisions to Silverwave, appears to be going the better of the two at the moment. Sixth compared to Silverwave's 13th in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1), the son of Hong Kong Cup heroine Pride bounced back to claim the Prix du Conseil de Paris (G2) at Chantilly.
Neither One Foot in Heaven nor Silverwave, who captured the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1) and Prix Foy (G2), have encountered ground as quick as they will see at Sha Tin. Big Orange, on the other hand, has won two editions of the Princess of Wales (G2) on good-to-firm ground at Newmarket plus two runnings of the Goodwood Cup (G2). Aside from his beats in the last two Melbourne Cups (G1), his only other below-par races of late have come in softer conditions.
The Vase verdict: 1. HIGHLAND REEL, 2. ONE FOOT IN HEAVEN, 3. BIG ORANGE, 4. SILVERWAVE
The leading lights in the 2000-meter Hong Kong Cup are defending titlist A Shin Hikari and reigning Japanese Horse of the Year Maurice, who won the Hong Kong Mile (G1) on this day last year. I've been firm in the belief since invitations for this race came out that Maurice was the one for me, and I can't think differently after seeing him on the track this week.
Maurice answered any distance concerns with his win in the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) last time, where he beat a below-par A Shin Hikari by more than eight lengths. Both are making the final starts of their career in the Cup, and I think Maurice is the one who goes out a winner.
A Shin Hikari dazzled in upsetting this race a year ago in wire-to-wire fashion, and followed up with a monster performance in the Prix d'Ispahan (G1) at Chantilly, which he won by 10 lengths and made him one of the most highly-rated Thoroughbreds on the planet.
Not all has gone well since then for the gray known for his on-course antics. Disappointing at odds-on in the Prince of Wales's (G1) at Royal Ascot on soft ground, A Shin Hikari was not on his best behavior prior to the Tenno Sho Autumn and sped himself into a 12th-place finish.
The general consensus, based on how he's looked this week, is A Shin Hikari will fare much better in the Cup, especially as he's ideally drawn in barrier 1. However, given that recent form downturn, this might be an opportunity to find a longer price to link with Maurice in the quinella.
Queens Ring, one of the few filly or mares competing in this year's HKIR, exits a career-best win in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) at Kyoto and looks like a horse on the upswing. I'll take her to edge A Shin Hikari for the place, while French invader Elliptique, a Group 1 winner in Germany at Munich, has looked fabulous this week and can surely bounce back from an third on heavy ground in Rome to get a piece of this purse.
The Cup verdict: 1. MAURICE, 2. QUEENS RING, 3. A SHIN HIKARI, 4. ELLIPTIQUE
On Saturday, I'll go over the Hong Kong Sprint (G1) and Hong Kong Mile (G1), plus races of note on the HKIR undercard.