The Hong Kong International Races are again poised to host international fields worthy of the $83 million HKD ($10.5M USD) of prize money on the line this Sunday. The crown jewel of the Hong Kong racing calendar, the four Group races span from the 6 furlong sprint, the mile, the 12 furlong Vase and the 10 furlong Cup. All races are contested over the turf at Sha Tin Racecourse, and usually draw crowds in excess of 70,000 fans.
The first up of the races will be the Vase, which has drawn an international field stretching from Europe to Australia. The class of the field appears to be Flintshire, who was last seen finishing second in both the Breeders' Cup Turf and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. While the local entries in this race are usually short of G1 caliber, the field does include last year’s surprise winner, Dominant. Having not found the winner’s circle since his 2013 victory, he’ll have his hands full with the globe-trotting Red Cadeaux, and Empoli. Another horse of interest here is Japanese invader Curren Mirotic who was last seen finishing a tracking 2nd place to Gold Ship in the G1 Takarazuka Kinen in June.
I expect the aforementioned Curren Mirotic to be near the front with local pace setters Bubble Chic and Khaya. This race will be setting up quite nicely for Empoli and Flintshire, both of whom will likely stalk the pace. I do believe the traveling has taken a toll on Flintshire, and we’ll see the German horse, Empoli come away with the victory.
One of the more competitive races on the card, the Sprint looks be full of local and international firepower. Of the local talent, the hottest horse in the land, Peniaphobia looks to be one of the clear-cut favorites. To save the readers an internet search, his name is defined as a fear of poverty, which should be no problem for his owners if he runs to the form of this season. Its impossible to neglect the other Hong Kong powerhouses Lucky Nine and Aerovelocity, both of whom have the class and the form to win this race.
Of the international invaders, Sole Power, Buffering, Gordon Lord Byron, and Snow Dragon all come in to have legitimate chance at finding the winners circle. Inside post position has a huge upside to races at this distance at Sha Tin and of all the major players, Lucky Nine, Gordon Lord Byron, and Sole Power have drawn very well. I see this slug-fest ending with Gordon Lord Byron taking home the majority share of the $18.5M HKD purse.
If there’s one race that has the scales tilted in favor of the home team, it’s the Mile. Able Friend is coming third off the layoff and one of the most dominating wins in Hong Kong stakes company in 2014. His win in the Jockey Club Mile was nothing short of breathtaking. Entering his last race, the enormous five-year-old gelding was still heavy (1301lbs!) from his summer break, and trainer John Moore expects to see even more improvement for this Group 1 event. Other notables from Hong Kong include 2013/2014 Champion Miler Gold Fun, Glorious Days who won this race last year, and six-time champion Ambitious Dragon.
Fiero and Trade Storm look to have the best shot of the foreign horses, but I think they may be a bit outmatched in this race. With plenty of pace, I expect to see Able Friend continue his domination of the Hong Kong circuit at the distance and put on another awe-inspiring performance.
The marquee event on the card is the $25M HKD Hong Kong Cup. Contested at 10 furlongs, this race has drawn some of the top middle distance turf horses in the world. Ready to give it his 5th shot, the 8-year-old superstar Cirrus Des Aigles will hope to finally find a win over the Sha Tin turf. Perhaps one of the more intriguing horses to be entered in this race is Archimedes. Untested at Group 1 company and unraced since March, he was last seen finishing second to Just A Way and is a 6 time winner in middle distance races.
This race again looks to be favored toward the locals, who have been battling it out all season to establish favoritism. The nod looks to go to 2012/2013 Hong Kong Horse of the Year, Military Attack, who has found new legs since being transferred to the barn of Casper Fownes over the summer. Reigning Horse of the Year Designs on Rome looks to find the form of his previous season, and cannot be discounted on class alone. Also entered are two-time race winner, California Memory, and Jockey Club Cup winning Blazing Speed.
Without any clear pace setters entered, look for a very competitive race as they turn down the stretch. One note of the 9 furlong turf course at Sha Tin, is that the short run up to the first turn puts horses with middle and inside post positions at a slight advantage. Designs on Rome and Cirrus Des Aigles have drawn perfectly for the race, with Military Attack and Blazing Speed drawing a bit further to the outside. I believe the 5th time is a charm for the old man, and this edition will see the win go to Cirrus Des Aigles.
Always a fun day of racing, the Hong Kong International Races showcase the wonderful venue and racing culture of Hong Kong. This year should be no exception as I expect these races to live up to their reputations.