On the road to Hong Kong
With just over two months until the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin, connections in Hong Kong and around the world are beginning to plot a path to the global year-end showpiece.
Amazing Kids (in pink) enhanced his profile with victory in the National Day Cup
A total of HK$83 million is up for grabs at the "Turf World Championships" on Sunday, 11 December, across four races – the HK$25 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m), the HK$23 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m), the HK$18.5 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and the HK$16.5 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m).
The dawn of October marked the start of Hong Kong's feature race calendar, with the first Group races of the season at Sha Tin last Saturday (1 October) – the Group 3 National Day Cup Handicap over the straight 1000m and the Group 3 Celebration Cup Handicap over 1400m.
The short-course sprint produced high drama, with the John Size-trained Amazing Kids (126lb) knuckling down to get the better of straight track specialist Amber Sky (113lb) in the final stride.
Amazing Kids, described as "unassuming" by rider Brett Prebble, had emerged as one of Hong Kong's young talents on the sprinting scene towards the back end of last season and confirmed that promise with a win that puts him right in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) picture.
With a secure Sprint berth now seeming likely, he will head to the G2 Premier Bowl on 23 October.
Last year's Hong Kong Sprint hero Peniaphobia (133lb) stuck on gamely under top-weight for third, while Neil Callan urged punters to forget Not Listenin'tome's (130lb) checkered fifth as he also presses on to the Premier Bowl.
In the Celebration Cup, generally a starting point for horses heading towards the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile, Joyful Trinity (115lb) confirmed himself as one of the most progressive horses in town and put himself closer to a Mile berth in the process with his one and a quarter length victory under Joao Moreira.
Trainer John Moore confirmed after the race that the four-year-old, who formerly raced as Baghadur in France, would now follow the traditional path to the Hong Kong Mile, heading next to the G2 Oriental Watch 55th Anniversary Sha Tin Trophy Handicap (1600m) on 23 October before progressing to the premier lead-up, the G2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile on 20 November.
This is also the likely path for stablemate Helene Paragon, who failed to fire when finishing 10th but satisfied his trainer regardless.
Trainer Tony Cruz's Beauty Only and Beauty Flame filled the tierce, the former in particular catching the eye with his fast-finishing second. Both will also take the well-trodden path to the Mile.
G1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) winner Contentment showed he was on track, boxing on for fifth, while Packing Pins disappointed with his ninth-placed finish.
Leading big race trainer John Moore may have lost his ace, with G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (2000m) winner Werther forced out due to injury, but the handler is still building a formidable team for Hong Kong's richest race, the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m).
Moore sent out three potential Cup runners at Tuesday's trials, led by veteran Designs On Rome. The 2014 Hong Kong Cup winner has not been at his peak since fetlock surgery ended his 2014/15 season prematurely, but he still managed one victory last season in the G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup over 2000m and will once again be aimed at the Hong Kong Cup. Rider Karis Teetan was pleased with his easy sixth in the 1000m turf trial.
By contrast, Rapper Dragon will be out to achieve a rare feat by taking an international race on his way to the trio of four-year-old classics in early 2017. He will be out to emulate Lucky Owners, who won the 2003 G1 Hong Kong Mile on his way to victory in the 2004 HKG1 Hong Kong Derby (2000m). He looks on target after finishing third to Lucky Bubbles in his heat, with rider Joao Moreira suggesting the horse is slightly behind his stablemates in his preparation.
The eye-catcher of the three Moore triallists was last season's HKG1 BMW Hong Kong Derby runner-up Victory Magic, who flashed home for fourth in the same trial as his stablemates. The son of Savabeel could run in either the Cup or the Vase, but early reports suggest the 2000m race is the more likely target.
Moore indicated after the trial that all three horses are likely to resume in the G2 Oriental Watch 55th Anniversary Sha Tin Trophy (1600m) on 23 October, a typical starting point for local horses aiming at the Cup.
Later in the trial session, old-timer Blazing Speed began his fifth season in Hong Kong with a comfortable second in his 1600m turf heat behind quirky galloper Consort. Trainer Tony Cruz will have the option of the Cup or the Vase for Blazing Speed, with the horse having won Group 1 races at both 2000m and 2400m, including taking out his second G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) at his last start in May. He is also likely to be seen over a mile on 23 October.
Down Under, Godolphin produced two potential Hong Kong raiders with Hartnell turning the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) at Flemington into a cakewalk a day after Hauraki emerged from nowhere to snatch the G1 Epsom Handicap (1600m) from former Hong Kong galloper Dibayani.
Across in France, dominant G2 Prix Dollar (2000m) winner Potemkin is hopeful for an invitation to Sha Tin, according to trainer Andreas Wohler. The son of New Approach was racing outside his native Germany for the first time, but took to Chantilly like an old hand.
The return of G1 Chairman's Sprint Prize (1200m) winner Chautauqua in the G1 Moir Stakes (1000m) at Moonee Valley on Friday, 30 September, was seen beforehand as something of a victory lap as the popular grey stepped out in Australia for the first time since his overseas triumph at Sha Tin in May. However, he was beaten into fourth as three-year-old Extreme Choice took advantage of his significant weight break to score, only hitting top gear in the last 50 metres.
Connections have stated that the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint remains Chautauqua's primary goal this campaign, the culmination of a four-run preparation that will include outings in the G1 Manikato Stakes (1200m) at Moonee Valley and the G1 Darley Classic (1200m) at Flemington.
In Japan, the G1 Sprinters Stakes (1200m) at Nakayama is generally a testing ground for a Sha Tin trip, but it was a messy race in which less than five lengths separated the 16 runners at the finish. Winner Red Falx is under consideration for a December sojourn along with runner-up Mikki Isle, seventh to Peniaphobia in last year's Sprint, while G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1200m) winner Big Arthur, who finished 12th after never seeing daylight, may also make the journey.
On the local front, a number of horses continue to step out on the training track as they build up towards the G2 Premier Bowl Handicap (1200m) on 23 October.
The Francis Lui-trained Lucky Bubbles, a defiant second to Chautauqua in the Chairman's Sprint Prize, led home a star-studded trial field on Tuesday morning as he advances to the Premier Bowl. Regular rider Brett Prebble will stick with the chestnut, forgoing the mount on G3 National Day Cup winner Amazing Kids.
The 2014 Hong Kong Sprint winner Aerovelocity cruised home to win a barrier trial on 23 September and has followed a similar preparation to previous years, galloping on Wednesday morning as he builds up to a Premier Bowl start.
Other potential Sprint aspirants Thewizardofoz and Lucky Year galloped on Wednesday morning, with both also likely runners in the Premier Bowl.
The last two G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) winners were in action last weekend on either side of the Atlantic, both beaten but neither disgraced.
The Aidan O'Brien-trained 2015 victor Highland Reel ran his usual honest race in the G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (2400m) at Chantilly, beating all bar his G1 Breeders' Cup Turf-winning stablemate Found, and is reported to be under consideration to defend his crown at Sha Tin in December. He may be joined in Hong Kong by G1 Ascot Gold Cup-winning stablemate Order Of St George.
A fascinating contender out of the Arc could be Alain de Royer-Dupre's One Foot In Heaven, who finished an even sixth. The lightly raced four-year-old is a son of top mare Pride, who ended her career on a high with her victory in the 2006 Hong Kong Cup (2000m).
Stateside, 2014 Vase winner Flintshire suffered his first defeat since transferring to the barn of Chad Brown earlier this year, falling victim to soft ground and a moderate tempo when finishing a distant second to fellow French import Ectot in the G1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (2412m) at Belmont.
Indeed, it was a big weekend for Vase alumni with the former Tony Cruz trainee Willie Cazals, second to Flintshire in 2014, finally breaking through for a win at the highest level in New Zealand. The eight-year-old grey took out the G1 Livamol Classic (2000m) at Hastings for new trainers Lance O'Sullivan and Andrew Scott.
On the local stage, HKG3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap (2400m) winner Ambitious Champion began his Vase campaign with a fast-finishing fifth to Sichuan Dar in the Class 2 Wistaria Handicap (1650m) at Happy Valley on 28 September.
Helene Happy Star, who was the first Hong Kong horse home in fifth in last year's Vase, returned to the trials at Sha Tin on Tuesday with a quiet effort under Sam Clipperton, finishing a six and three-quarter length seventh to Lucky Bubbles. He is on track to resume in the G2 Oriental Watch 55th Anniversary Sha Tin Trophy (1600m) on 23 October.
The 2015 G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) winner Helene Super Star, owned in similar interests, has failed to fire in two runs this season but will be out to find form in a bid to run once again in the Vase.
Caspar Fownes-trained Renaissance Art and Tony Cruz's Anticipation have both been seen at the trials in recent days and are expected to be back at the races by the end of October as they try to win their way into the Vase line-up.
One galloper who will not be competing in the December internationals is the Paul O'Sullivan-trained Giovanni Canaletto. Last season's HKG1 BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) third is on the sidelines with a tendon injury and will not be seen until the second half of the term.
One of the more taking winners of the weekend anywhere on the globe was Limato, who left his G1 Prix de la Foret (1400m) rivals in his wake with a three-length demolition at Chantilly. Henry Candy's galloper now looks set for a globetrotting campaign, with the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m) or the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint potential targets.
The four-year-old is noted for his desire for fast ground, which opens up the prospect of a Hong Kong campaign to cap his season. First, he is likely to head to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup for either the Mile or the Turf Sprint.
Of the locals, the biggest query remains 2014 Mile winner Able Friend. He has not been seen since finishing third to Maurice in this race last year, with a leg injury in January putting the giant chestnut's career at risk. The seven-year-old was sent to Australia to recuperate, only making it back to Sha Tin at the end of August, and has had an interrupted preparation since his return.
Trainer John Moore is now suggesting a one-run lead-up into the Mile, stepping out first in the G2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint (1200m) on 20 November.
The first local home from last year's Mile, Giant Treasure, has conversely had a smooth preparation ahead of his return. He caught the eye flashing home for second in a 1000m turf trial on Tuesday under new rider Neil Callan, who proclaimed the grey in good heart as he takes aim at the Mile.
Last season's Champion Miler Sun Jewellery also looks set to return shortly after stepping out for his first barrier trial of the season on 30 September. The Mile remains his most likely target, although a tilt at the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint could yet be a possibility.
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