Plenty To Play For at Longines HKIR

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Pyledriver takes on Mogul in Sunday's Hong Kong Vase | HKJC photo

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by Alan Carasso

The Longines Hong Kong International Races meeting Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse has had much to overcome over the last few years. In 2019, massive social unrest–including a cluster at the Chinese University of Hong Kong a stone's throw from the track–left some doubt as to whether the event would go forward at all. At the end of the day, not only did it proceed, but it was supported to the tune of record turnover of HK$1.71 billion.

Twelve months ago, in the midst of a pandemic that was wreaking worldwide havoc, the Hong Kong Jockey Club established a travel bubble, allowing participants to travel to Hong Kong and to attend to their horses as normal while having their movement otherwise severely restricted. The show went on–albeit in front of an empty grandstand–and was an unmitigated success by any metric. Despite the discovery of a new COVID variant now making its way around, the fans–upwards of 18,000 of them after a bit more than 6,000 patrons saw Zac Purton take out Wednesday's Longines International Jockeys' Championship at Happy Valley–will return to Sha Tin Sunday afternoon for a day of top international racing, with horses from England, France, Ireland and Japan taking on the locals for record prizemoney of HK$100 million (£9.7 million/€11.3 million/A$17.9 million/US$12.8 million).

The winners of three of last year's HKIR return to the New Territories in search of a second crown. Mogul (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) will attempt to become the fourth individual winner of the G1 Longines Hong Kong Vase (2400m) for Team Ballydoyle and Aidan O'Brien, who sent out the globetrotting Highland Reel (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) to score in 2015 and 2017. A clear three-length winner over Exultant (Ire) (Teofilo {Ire}) last year, the bay has been fractionally disappointing this term, his best effort being a third in the G1 Prix Ganay in early May. A tailed-off sixth behind the re-opposing Pyledriver (GB) (Harbour Watch {Ire}) in the G1 Cornation Cup at Epsom in June, Mogul was most recently sixth in a soft-turf renewal of the G3 Prix de Reux at Deauville

“A few things haven't gone quite right for him through the summer, so he's been lightly raced,” jockey Ryan Moore told the HKJC's Steve Moran. “His work's been good at home and he looks great. We know he likes Sha Tin and he likes quick ground. I believe Aidan's very happy with him, so we're hoping that he can step back in the right direction.”

Pyledriver reminds one of the aforementioned Exultant, a staying type that is able to race handy, then finish off his races strongly. He was a beaten horse in the Coronation Cup in his second start this preparation, only to claw his way back underneath favoured Al Aasy (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}). Sidelined off that effort, the blaze-faced bay resumed in the Listed Churchill S. over the Lingfield all-weather while on trial for this race Nov. 13 and made an early move to the front before sticking on bravely to score by a half-length.

“It was a blow that Pyledriver missed the summer with a muscle problem, but sometimes things happen for a reason and maybe the best is yet to come,” jockey Martin Dwyer, who won the 2004 Vase with Phoenix Reach (Ire) (Alhaarth {Ire}), told HKJC writer Graham Cunningham.

Glory Vase (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) is also in search of a second Vase, having been ridden to perfection by Joao Moreira two years ago. Only lightly raced for a 6-year-old with 16 starts under his belt, the handsome dark bay was a running-on second to compatriot Loves Only You (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) in the G1 FWD QE II Cup (2000m) in April and has one start since, a third in the G2 Sankei Sho All Comers S. Sept. 26 in which he first made a run from near the tail to be up with the leaders while wide on the final bend and fought on to finish third. He's got the 'Magic Man' back in the irons, hasn't had to travel as far as his chief rivals and should be in the finish.

 

Champion S. Form on Display in the Cup…

Sunday's richest race is the 2000-metre G1 Longines Hong Kong Cup, its HK$30 million pot making it the richest race in the world at the graded/group level on turf over the distance (the Mile and the Sprint can boast the same).

No European shipper has managed a victory in the Cup since Moore rode Snow Fairy (Ire) (Intikhab) for Ed Dunlop in 2010. She was coincidentally the last 3-year-old to defeat her elders in the race, and a trio of raiders from that age group will start as outsiders Sunday. Dubai Honour (Ire) (Pride of Dubai {Aus}) and Mac Swiney (Ire) (New Approach {Ire}) made their respective last appearances in the G1 QIPCO Champion S. at Ascot Oct. 16, with the former charging home into second while 1 1/2 lengths clear of a slightly hampered Mac Swiney in third. Dubai Honour earned his way into Champions Day by virtue of fast-finishing scores in the G2 Prix Guillaume d'Ornano at Deauville and the G2 Prix Dollar at a very soggy ParisLongchamp on Arc weekend Oct. 2. The faster underfoot conditions are of concern to his trainer.

“My fear, and I think it's [jockey] Tom [Marquand]'s fear, is the ground,” William Haggas told the HKJC's Darryl Timms. “Although he ran on and won at Newmarket on fast ground in July, he has run his best three races on soft ground. I never thought he had to have soft ground, but it's maybe that he does.”

Mac Swiney hails from the Jim Bolger yard, successful in 2004 with 3-year-old filly Alexander Goldrun (Ire) (Gold Away {Ire}), who was ridden to victory by the colt's jockey Kevin Manning.

Bolshoi Ballet (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), this year's GI Belmont Derby hero, rounds out the 3-year-old trio and exits a sixth in the GI Breeders' Cup Turf, but would need a giant step forward here.

Japan's Loves Only You is already a winner over Sunday's course and distance, having scooped the aforementioned QE II Cup in style this past April. Previously third in the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic, she was second to top Japanese 3-year-old filly Sodashi (Jpn) (Kurofune) in the G2 Sapporo Kinen ahead of her history-making success in the GI Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Del Mar last month and did the bulk of her training at the Southern California track. She looms the one to beat, while Lei Papale (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}), who defeated recent G1 Japan Cup hero Contrail (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) in the G1 Osaka Hai in easy ground she quite enjoyed in April, will have her backers and should be handy to the pace.

Panfield (Chi) (Lookin At Lucky), whose Hong Kong Group 1 success came in last year's Champions & Chater Cup over an additional 400 metres, attacked the line when third in the 2021 BMW Hong Kong Derby going this trip and was the surprise winner first-up of the G3 Sha Tin Trophy H. over a mile Oct. 17. He can be forgiven for his seventh-place effort in a falsely run G2 Jockey Club Cup Nov. 21 and can factor on his best.

 

 

Golden Sixty Looking To Double Up in Mile…

With a successful defence of his title in Sunday' G1 Longines Hong Kong Mile, Golden Sixty (Aus) (Medaglia d'Oro) would surpass two legends of the Hong Kong turf–Silent Witness (Aus) and Beauty Generation (NZ)–as the winningest horse in Hong Kong history with 19 victories. The Francis Lui trainee would also be taking his current winning streak to 16, which would take him to within one of Silent Witness's 17 on the bounce, a sequence that included the Hong Kong Sprint in 2003 and 2004. Golden Sixty swerved the early-season handicap group races, in which he'd have carried top weight, in favour of a single prep and he did what he had to do in the Nov. 21 G2 Jockey Club Mile, laying off a very slow pace before rattling off wicked closing sectionals, as is his custom.

“We are very happy with him, he came out of that first run very well–in that race over the first 800 [metres] the pace was very slow, that gave the other horses a little trouble, but Golden Sixty, he just has a very good turn of foot now–he knows where the finish is,” trainer Francis Lui told HKJC's Declan Schuster.

The Mile trophy has gone back to Japan twice in the last six runnings (Maurice {Jpn}, 2015; Admire Mars {Jpn}), 2019) and that country fields four of the 11 runners in Sunday's renewal. Of those, two are winners of the G1 Yasuda Kinen–Danon Kingly (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}), who was a bit fortunate to best Gran Alegria (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) in the Tokyo feature this past June and who was runner-up in the G2 Mainichi Okan Oct. 10; and Indy Champ (Jpn) (Stay Gold {Jpn}), who took the 2019 Yasuda Kinen, was seventh to Admire Mars in this two years ago and was a close fourth to Gran Alegria in the G1 Mile Championship Nov. 21. Salios (Jpn) (Heart's Cry {Jpn}), a Group 1 winner at two, has form through Contrail and was a tugging sixth in the Mile Championship, while Vin de Garde (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) will be the least-fancied of the quartet.

Longshot players might have a look at Excellent Proposal (Aus) (Exceed and Excel {Aus}), winner of the Hong Kong Classic Mile last season and desperately unlucky not to win a Class 1 handicap prep over track and trip a fortnight ago.

Reigning G1 1000 Guineas heroine Mother Earth (Ire) (Zoffany {Ire}) added the G1 Prix Rothschild at Deauville over the summer, but would need to go to a new level to factor here.

 

 

Several Chances in the Sprint…

Danon Smash (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}) overcame a horror draw in stall 14 to post a 21-1 upset in last year's G1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint, but it may be his fellow raiders that prove toughest to beat as he swansongs Sunday afternoon.

Pixie Knight (Jpn) is a son of Horse of the Year Maurice (Jpn), who sandwiched a victory in the 2016 G1 Champions Mile at Sha Tin between International Races glory in the Mile in 2015 and the Cup to close out his career in 2016. A Group 3 winner over a mile at the beginning of this year, Pixie Knight failed to land a blow in two subsequent appearances at the distance, including a 12th in the G1 NHK Mile Cup in May. He has been a different proposition altogether since returning to sprint trips, missing by a neck to Resistencia (Jpn) (Daiwa Major {Jpn}) in the G2 Centaur S. Sept. 12 before reversing form with a decisive, albeit perfect-trip victory in the G1 Sprinters' S. at Nakayama Oct. 3. Danon Smash used a runner-up effort in the same event as a stepping-stone to his score here 12 months ago. No 3-year-old has ever won the Sprint.

Winner of the G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies over the mile in 2019, Resistencia is another to have blossomed at shorter trips. Also second to Danon Smash in the G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen last March, the Carrot Farm runner is versatile in her running style, but seems best suited as an on-pace runner.

Wellington (Aus) (All Too Hard {Aus}) might prove most appealing to value shoppers. Victorious in the G1 Chairman's Sprint Prize last April, he missed an October prep and raced first-up in the G2 Jockey Club Sprint Nov. 21, appearing to run out of condition at the 200 metres before finishing seventh to the progressive Lucky Patch (NZ) (El Roca {Aus}). He is primed to go a much better race second off the layoff.

The hulking Naboo Attack (Aus) (Warhead {Aus}), Hong Kong's biggest horse at 1366 pounds, ran home nicely to snatch second money in the Jockey Club Sprint, but loses leading rider Zac Purton to Lucky Patch, while Hot King Prawn (Aus) (Denman {Aus}), twice a beaten favourite in this race, makes his fourth appearance in it for one last shot at glory at age seven.

 

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