The road to the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races heats up

With the major races in Europe complete, the Breeders’ Cup in the United States done and dusted and the Melbourne Cup Carnival down under reaching its conclusion, attention is starting to shift to Asia and the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races.

A total of HK$84.5 million is on offer at the year-end global racing showpiece on Sunday, 10 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$18 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m).

Selected runners will be announced for the “Turf World Championships” on 22 November.

From Del Mar to Sha Tin for Breeders’ Cup runners

The Breeders’ Cup sees the best North American gallopers tackle a strong European raiding party annually. This year’s festival was held around the tight confines of Del Mar, near San Diego, and as always looks to have produced a number of possible HKIR contenders.

Aidan O’Brien’s globetrotting stalwart Highland Reel snared the 2016 G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf (2400m) en route to finishing second to Satono Crown in last year’s LONGINES Hong Kong Vase. This year, Highland Reel could only manage third in the Breeders’ Cup’s mile and a half feature, but the Galileo five-year-old – who also won the 2015 Vase among six G1 victories worldwide – could have one final run in this year’s Vase before retiring to stud.

He may be joined by Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Talismanic, with trainer Andre Fabre keen to test him at Sha Tin. Also amongst entries for the Vase and the Cup is runner-up Beach Patrol, who won the G1 Arlington Million (2000m) in Chicago in August.

The G1 Breeders’ Cup Mile (1600m) may also prove a key race for the LONGINES Hong Kong Mile. Runner-up Lancaster Bomber has had a winless season but has performed well whenever he has struck firm ground, while fourth-placed Suedois has been reinvented as a miler in recent months. Both hold Mile entries.

Trainer Peter Miller is in an enviable position with two of the best American sprinters in line for a possible Hong Kong trip.

G1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (1200m, dirt) winner Roy H may become the first winner of that race to tackle the Hong Kong Sprint. Roy H was once a grass specialist, winning a Santa Anita allowance on the track’s unique downhill turf course in April, but he has thrived since he was switched to dirt and is now a dual G1 winner on the surface.

However, Miller has stated that G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (1000m) victor Stormy Liberal is his possible representative instead. Stormy Liberal caused a 30/1 shock on Saturday (4 November), beating out a field that included G1 winners Marsha and Lady Aurelia, and may now follow in the footsteps of previous Turf Sprint winners Mongolian Saturday (fifth, 2015) and California Flag (fifth, 2009) in the Hong Kong Sprint.

Roy H was among free nominations taken last month for the four HKIR features, but Stormy Liberal would need to be added to the list of entries if he is to take his place on 10 December, at a cost of HK$185,000.

Supplementary entries close for all HKIR features at 6pm Hong Kong time on 20 November.

Melbourne Cup a potential Vase stepping stone

It has been five years since Red Cadeaux emerged from the Melbourne Cup to win the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase, a year after Dunaden became the first galloper to complete the Melbourne Cup-Hong Kong Vase double.

Joseph O’Brien staved off his father Aidan to win his first G1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) on Tuesday (7 November), with three-year-old Rekindling seeing off Johannes Vermeer. Rekindling, who was also fourth in the G1 St Leger (2900m) at Doncaster, holds a Vase entry.

Third-placed Max Dynamite still remains a possibility of travelling to Sha Tin for trainer Willie Mullins, while connections of Alain Couetil’s Tiberian have flagged their Vase intentions with the Melbourne Cup seventh.

Locals prepare to stake their HKIR claims

Most of Hong Kong’s leading gallopers have had a quiet couple of weeks as they prepare for the last major lead-up races later in November. However, there has still been Group race action at Sha Tin and some left-field HKIR contenders have emerged.

Last Sunday (5 November) saw trainer Tony Millard score his third consecutive G3 Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse Handicap (1800m) with Nassa. The South African import caught free-rolling Time Warp in the last stride, stopping the clock in 1m 45.41s – taking more than four-tenths of a second off Helene Paragon’s 1800m track record.

Millard has tasted HKIR success before, taking the 2012 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile with two-time Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon. He has indicated his wish to take Nassa into the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup without another run after the 2015 G1 Cape Guineas third broke his Hong Kong maiden.

Time Warp stamped his claims for a Mile or Cup berth with his gallant second, while 2016 Ladies’ Purse winner Horse Of Fortune may also be heading that way after finishing fourth. Just in behind him was Eagle Way, who did his LONGINES Hong Kong Vase ambitions no harm with a closing fifth.

Saturday (11 November) at Sha Tin features the Class 1 Panasonic Cup (1400m), where John Moore-trained Booming Delight will continue his progression towards the Mile.

The local HKIR contingent will become clearer after the three main lead-up races on 19 November – the G2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint (1200m), the G2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile (1600m) and the G2 BOCHK Jockey Club Cup (2000m). Entries for the three preps were taken on Monday (6 November).

Nassa (No. 14) and Chad Schofield land the G3 Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse Handicap in style earlier this month, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club