Longines Hong Kong International Races 2017

Longines Hong Kong International Races 2017

The spruik would want you to believe the world was watching The Everest. It wasn’t. As good as the sell, the expensive and expansive marketing, the event itself, it was big in Sydney but apart from a drop in jockey (Jamie Spencer), the world wasn’t there or tuned in.

The Championships in Sydney’s autumn are promoted as racing’s grand finals. They aren’t. As “aspirational” (their term) as the fortnight might be – and should be – given the prizemoney lures, again the big racing world isn’t there.

That is not to knock either, but drill to reality, which is to say the tag of “The World’s Turf Championships” sits far more easily and without any exultant spin or fanfare alongside the 2017 Longines Hong Kong International Races where 32 international contenders are “selected” to run across the four races worth HK $84.5m (A$14.2m) next Sunday at Sha Tin.

As the racing world narrows around events like Breeders Cup in America, Dubai World Cup, Royal Ascot, the Melbourne Spring Carnival – and each provide different opportunity as much as organisational skills, Hong Kong in December has become the most well timed and most well run international carnival event on and off the track for all participants.

And we aren’t talking fashions on the field, jumping castle for kids, corporate marquees – this is pure racing at an elite level, the focus on the punt, as well as chance to do business in the melting pot that is Hong Kong International Race Week. And www.justracing.com.au will be there to bring you all that is happening.

Unfortunately Australia is unrepresented with horse contenders due to seemingly outrageous quarantine protocols, but can claim interest via numerous jockeys and transferred horses, like Seasons Bloom, (formerly Le Capitaine) when trained by Brendan McCarthy to win a maiden at Pakenham. It’s now favourite for the HK$18m (A$3.02m) Longines Hong Kong Mile.

Mind you Australia has hardly been a major player on the big Hong Kong International stage – which itself took time to mature onto the expanding world racing circuit – and is now cemented as the rightful end of calendar year racing finals.

No Australian trained horse since Falvelon – taking out the 2000 and 2001 Hong Kong Sprints (the youngest of the feature quartet of international races), has stood on the winner’s dias. (Chautuaqua won the Chairmans Sprint in May 2016 run in the May Carnival)

And you can only count Monolpolize (95/96) and then Catalan Opening (97) through the race then known as the Bowl and 1400m as winners. The original running was won by surprise surprise Dermot Weld with Additional Risk in 1991. It went to 1600m (The Hong Kong Mile) in 2000 and enter Sunline from New Zealand.

Of course State Taj in 1994 for James Riley and Damien Oliver in the Hong Kong Cup, as world turf champions.

That was the race that got this day going, albeit as an 1800m race. It was in 1988 (in January) as the then Hong Kong Invitation Cup where “raiders” from Singapore and Malaysia were first takers. The following years, Australian and New Zealand horses were issued invites and the now locked in to the December date became home to this race but it wasn’t until 1993 that it attained international Group 3 status (take note The Everest protocol dodgers).

It went to the 2000m in 2000 when Godolphin’s Fantastic Light capped a stellar season.

Kiwis Grey Invader (89) and Kessem (90), beating Bill Mitchell’s Livistona Lane would win it before Romanee Contee beat Fraar in 1993. Seascay was placed in 1996 before it became the Hong Kong International Cup in 1999 and the then colony’s first group 1 race.

And a rich history it boasts with the likes of Falbrav, Alexander Goldrun, Vengeance Of Rain, Ramonti, Vision d’Etat, Snow Fairy and local hero California Memory winning it twice, before the Japanese stars A Shin Hakari and Maurice took the last two runnings.

The Hong Kong Mile (as mentioned above) was added in 1991, the Vase in 1994 (George Hanlon’s Royal Snack ran 2nd in 1996), the Sprint added in 1999 but it has become the domain of the locals, albeit most of them Australian bred – Rebel Dane contested last year with Takedown, previously Lucia Valentina’s 5th to A Shin Hakari was almost career best (before to Queen Elizabeth Stakes triumph).

Alcopop ran 3rd in the 2002 Cup, Apache Cat placed (3rd) in the 2008 Sprint. So as much as Australians like to puff their chests, unless it is Black Caviar going to Royal Ascot or the thought of Winx going there next year, take a reality pill, and take solace that staying home for our prizemoney is enough, but not boast international credentials.

We are looking forwarding to covering #HKIR2017. There isn’t a box office star but the depth of international completion is impressive headlined by Highland Reel and Breeder’s Cup winner Talismanic.

The locals now are as powerful as ever, especially in the Sprint and the Mile.

To make the point the highest rated (and maybe soon to be higher for some and lower others) Arrogate, Winx, Cracksman, Gun Runner (dirt), Enable – aren’t heading to Hong Kong, leaving frequent flyer Highland Reel off a 123 rating (the same as Chautauqua and Japanese idol Kitasan Black) as the best rated horse attending the Championships.

So let’s look at the races for better perspective as we lead you through #HKIR race week.

(I have used the International Rating figures alongside the horse names to help assist in a guide both historical to the race and present for the current contenders)

1- G1 LONGINES HONG KONG VASE (HK $18m – US$2/3m) – 2400m.

The key here is the Japanese rising star KISEKI, (118) the only 3YO in the field, winner of the equivalent of Japan’s St Leger over 3000m last start. He’s won 4 from 8 by Rulership (a Hong Kong QE11 Audemars Piquet Cup winner and subsequently ridden by Craig Williams in Japan). He comes with a 118 rating v HIGHLAND REEL (123) and TALISMANIC (122). This is a great race of age v rising talent. TIBERIAN (114) and MAX DYNAMITE (113) are here off the Melbourne Cup but hard to see them in finish though Dunaden did it and Red Cadeaux also who decided to stop over in Japan after Flemington.

HIGHLAND REEL gave Aidan O’Brien his first Hong Kong win in the Vase two years ago before he was brave behind Japan’s Satono Crown (won won off a 117 rating) last year in this race. Andre Fabre has won this race twice before (Borgia and Flintshire) and has Godolphin’s Talismanic in good form obviously off Del Mar.

You’d know EAGLE WAY (Qld Derby winner and now a 113 rater) but its seemingly struggling for that sort of form. GOLD MOUNT (109) was a 2400m winner at Royal Ascot in 2016 before being transferred to Hong Kong, winning on local debut but mixing form a bit since. Joao Moreira ends ups on TOSEN BASIL (113), a five time winner from Japan here but form doesn’t read as the likely winner here.

INITIAL THOUGHTS: KISEKI 1, HIGHLAND REEL 2, TALISMANIC 3, TIBERIAN 4.

2 – G1 LONGINES HONG KONG SPRINT (HK $16.5m – US$2.4m) – 1200m

This was originally a 1000m race until 2006 when went 1200m, a G1 by 2003 due to illustrious winners like Silent Witness (122). Sacred Kingdom and Japan’s emphatic star Lord Kanaloa (120) each who won it twice (like Falvelon).

It looks a local’s race again headlined by MR STUNNING (Nash Rawiller and a 121 rating) from LUCKY BUBBLES (Hugh Bowman, 119). Moreira rides the hard to assess THEWIZARDOFOZ (119), Prebble on AMAZING KIDS (118) for John Size (who has four here including the top pick).

MR STUNNING (by Exceed And Excel) is a 9 time winner in Hong Kong from 15 starts and best rated sprinter here. He comes to this in winning form against most of his main opposition, handling Lucky bubbles and Amazing Kids. PENIAPHOBIA won this in 2015 off a 116 rating (now 119) and hasn’t been bad but can’t see him turning it over on Mr Stunning now.

How to assess Thewizardofoz? Two lead-up runs poor behind Mr Stunning, good enough on day. Of the visitors maybe the poorly named Japanese LETS GO DONKI (111) the best – was a G1 1000 Guineas winner at 1600m in 2015 but 2nd in both G1 Sprints this season. Rates 111 v Mr Stunning 121, mind you NOT LISTENIN’TOME maintains a 118 rating (3rd here in 2015) off moderate lead-up form.

INITIAL THOUGTHS: MR STUNNING 1, LUCKY BUBBLES 2, LET’S GO DONKI 3, AMAZING KIDS 4.

3- G1 LONGINES HONG KONG MILE (HK$23m – US$3m) – 1600m

Again a race heavily dominated by locals as did Good Ba Ba (115/220/124) winning this three times 2007-09. The race (formerly 1400m Hong Kong Bowl went G2 in Monopolize’s 1995 year then G1 in 1999 as a Mile and of course Kiwi star Sunline upstaged local hero Fairy King Prawn in 2000 with plenty of drama on and off track.

BEAUTY ONLY (119) is back to defend for Hong Kong this year (was 117 2016) but race boasts powerful winners like Japan’s Maurice (2015 off a 119) – the only visitor in the last decade – while Able Friend (went off as a $1.3f) in 2014 with a 122 rating.

Who would have thought Pakenham Maiden 2016 winner 115 rater SEASONS BLOOM (known here at home as Le Capitaine) would be favourite for this major. He has won 5 of 12 since landing in Hong Kong. It is hard to ignore his winning credentials off his own form and seeming query on main rivals.  BEAUTY ONLY was 3.7lens in arrears on lead-up of Seasons Bloom in final lead-up and can’t see reason to turn around. HELENE PARAGON (119) was better there (Tommy Berry for John Moore) and 2nd in this last year when unlucky.

It needs luck but is going well. Japan’s SATONO ALADDIN (118) has had two poor cracks at this race and recent runs read poorly but gets Bowman and some faith perhaps here. ROLY POLY, Coolmore’s 115 3YO filly, comes off Breeders’ Cup Mile failure but that was career worst.

Seems a lack of winning form depth in this race.

INITIAL THOUGHTS: SEASONS BLOOM 1, HELENE PARAGON 2, BEAUTY ONLY 3, SATONO ALADDIN 4.

 

4- G1 LONGINES HONG KONG CUP

This is the best race – as outlined – its history and its honour roll – but here is Hong Kong (ex Kiwi) champion WERTHER (119) and ex French galloper TIME WARP (112) v Japan’s NEOREALISM (119 for Moreira) and England’s POET’S WORD (119) for Sir Michael Stoute for the most internationally competitive race of the meet. And it’s hard to ignore O’Brien’s DEAUVILLE (off a 119 rating) with Ryan Moore up.

Werther is Tommy Berry’s ride now, already the horse a premier 2000m horse and 3 x G1 winner in HK, as well as local horse of the year. Comes here off beating Time Warp and clearly is the one to beat. Have to respect Neorealism beating Maurice last year then coming to Hong Kong to win QE11 Cup (ran 9th HK Mile) last year. Blaming soft track for its preliminary run failure for it.

INITIAL THOUGHTS: WERTHER 1, NEOREALISM 2, POET’S WORD 3, DEAUVILLE 4.

LONGINES INTERNATIONAL JOCKEY’S CHALLENGE

The other key event at Hong Kong International Races 2017 is the Jockey Challenge on Wednesday Night at Happy Valley. And www.justracing.com.au will have all that covered.

What a line-up with LONGINES world’s best jockey Hugh Bowman defending against the brilliant and previous winner Ryan Moore with much side chatter over who is actually the world’s best given Moore’s stellar year running alongside Aidan O’Brien as well as a stunning run in Japan pre Hong Kong where Bowman stole the Japan Cup headlines. The Bowman anointment came from the number of the world’s top 100 races he rode in for points where Moore rode more G1 winners across the year. Anyway, it’s a talking point for the point of another Longines watch.

This event it run over 4 races Wednesday at Happy Valley off random draws for pretty random horses, this is a great test of rider ability.

But here are some names to get used to other than those you know.

From France: Pierre-Charles Boudot, champion jockey for a 2nd year there with 300 wins in the season.

From England: Silvestre de Sousa like Joao Moreira originally from Brazil but champion rider in the UK in 2015 and 2017.

From Italy: Christian Demuro – champion jockey there in 2011 and 2012

From Brazil – the new Moreira? Leandero Henrique graduated from champion apprentice to champion jockey in a season and has already ridden over 438 winners (age 18)

From France: Flavien Prat – who has ridden much of his career in America including 16 G1 victories.

From Japan: Keita Tosaki – a winner of 3100 races and over 100 G1’s including associations with Gentildonna and Real Impact. Has run 3rd in this event the last two seasons.

Add in Bowman and Moore, Zac Purton (yet to win this event), Mauritian Karis Teetan (now based on Hong Kong), local Derek Leung (who spent time with Dave O’Sullivan in NZ) for some Happy Wednesday fun from the Valley.

We will let you know more after the jockeys for horses draw on Monday.

So for the best coverage of the Longines Hong Kong International Races 2017, stay with www.justracing.com.au with Bruce Clark leading the coverage from the track. And Adam Campton providing the tips.

 

By Bruce Clark