Spot Plays for the Hong Kong International Races
Most of the favorites in the Hong Kong International Races (HKIR), which will be run overnight Saturday East Coast time in the U.S., might prove vulnerable. At least that's my intuition around 12 hours before the first of the quartet, the 1 1/2-mile Vase, kicks off the year-end championships. Here are the after-hours spot plays.
Race 4 (1 a.m. EDT) -- Hong Kong Vase (G1) -- HIGHLAND REEL (#1), looking to capture his second Vase in three years, is the chalk, but he was shockingly turned back in this spot last year. Also would have thought his talent was too good for the likes of TALISMANIC (#2), who wound up beating him in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) at Del Mar.
KISEKI (#12) concedes experience to both those titans, but appears to have tremendous upside. Two back, the three-year-old was a solid second to Japanese Derby winner Rey de Oro, who came back to finish second in the Japan Cup (G1), and last time he closed strongly to win the Kikuka Sho (G1), otherwise known as the Japanese St Leger, by two lengths.
Race 5 (1:40 a.m. EDT) -- Hong Kong Sprint (G1) -- Despite being unfavorably drawn in barrier 1, that hurdle can only help the price of LUCKY BUBBLES (#2). Narrowly beaten as the favorite in this race a year ago, his interim form was stellar until a recent rough-trip ninth in the Jockey Club Sprint, where he also broke from the 1-hole.
The post might again prove too big a hurdle to overcome, but latest was especially bad and it's hard to envision a scenario where he endures a similar amount of inconvenience. He's too good a horse, generally speaking, and jockey Hugh Bowman is cognizant that a different strategy will be required.
Except for a couple blips in October, MR STUNNING (#1) is the best sprinter going in Hong Kong at the moment and a deserving favorite.
Race 7 (2:50 a.m. EDT) -- Hong Kong Mile (G1) -- A seemingly wide-open race that the locals have virtually dominated for the past decade. Despite placing behind favorite SEASONS BLOOM (#7) multiple times this year, including the Jockey Club Mile (G2) prep, BEAUTY GENERATION (#10) also enters in strong form, including a first-up win over Seasons Bloom in the Celebration Cup in October.
Taken up a couple times in the Jockey Club Mile, Beauty Generation was only beaten a length in the end. Breaks farther outside in this one, which might help. Should be prominent throughout and perhaps is the one they'll all have to wear down.
Race 8 (3:30 a.m. EDT) -- Hong Kong Cup (G1) -- WERTHER (#4) might be the toughest favorite to beat in the entire sequence, not only because of his only significant talent but also due to a relative lack of depth in the day's richest race.
Still, NEOREALISM (#2) did turn back that favorite over this course and trip in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) back in April, and is surely better than what he showed over soft ground in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1) at Tokyo in late October.
Good luck to all!