Three of the four Hong Kong International Race winners from 2017 are back to defend their titles at Sha Tin on Sunday. All are locally based, led by Horse of the Year Beauty Generation who brings a four-race winning streak into the Hong Kong Mile (G1). Time Warp seeks to repeat his front-running coup in the Hong Kong Cup (G1), while reigning Sprint (G1) hero Mr Stunning has since been overturned by new divisional stars. The Hong Kong Vase (G1) throne is open, however, after two-time winner Highland Reel retired to Coolmore Stud.
HONG KONG VASE (4TH Race, 1 a.m. EST)
The about 1 1/2-mile Vase historically is the toughest race for the home team, with only Indigenous (1998) and Dominant (2013) scoring for the locals in 24 runnings.
Pakistan Star is not the most reliable, but the temperamental character has the class to buck the stats. The Tony Cruz performer showed his true ability with a sensational victory in the April 29 QEII Cup (G1), and in his lone attempt at this distance, he defeated smart stablemate Exultant in the Champions & Chater Cup (G1). While Pakistan Star comes off a clunker behind the peaking Eagle Way in a course record-breaking Jockey Club Cup (G2), he’s shrugged it off to “win” a barrier trial in the interim. And significantly he now reunites with jockey William Buick for the first time since the QEII. Ruthven, yet to hit the heights in Hong Kong, teams up with Hugh Bowman for the first time since they clicked in the 2017 Queensland Derby (G1).
France has been the most prolific source of Vase winners (10). Two have come from the Andre Fabre yard, Borgia (1999) and Flintshire (2014), and Waldgeist seeks to follow suit. The highest-rated horse in the race, the son of Galileo won four straight including the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1) and Prix Foy (G2), and checked in a solid fourth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). Waldgeist was most recently a disappointing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
Great Britain has fielded seven Vase winners, and Sir Michael Stoute’s Mirage Dancer leads a four-strong team flying the Union Jack. The Juddmonte homebred by Frankel and out of Heat Haze takes his first Group 1 test here, but he’s looked progressive when dispatching Red Verdon in the Glorious (G3) and just missing in the Princess of Wales’s (G2) and Legacy Cup (G3). Salouen, who nearly upset Cracksman in the Coronation Cup (G1), is often thereabouts, and his sixth in the Arc puts him right in the mix. Prince of Arran turns back in trip after a terrific third in the Melbourne Cup (G1) on ground softer than he’d like.
Also exiting the Melbourne Cup is Rostropovich, the fifth-placer for Aidan O’Brien. Another by Frankel, he renews rivalry with the Joseph O’Brien-trained Latrobe, who edged him in the Irish Derby (G1). Latrobe took an Australian detour himself, missing by a head in the Mackinnon (G1). Rounding out the Irish trio is Dermot Weld’s Eziyra, sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) in her latest.
Both Japanese representatives are distaffers – Lys Gracieux and Crocosmia, the respective one-two from the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) at Kyoto. That marked a Grade 1 breakthrough for Lys Gracieux after several placings, and notably Joao Moreira is back aboard. Likely pacesetter Crocosmia, runner-up in the Kyoto feature for the second straight year, tackles this distance for the first time but is a daughter of 2001 Vase victor Stay Gold.
HONG KONG SPRINT (5TH Race, 1:40 a.m. EST)
Next on the card is the about six-furlong Sprint, won by Hong Kong representatives in 13 of the last 16 years. Mr Stunning rode the crest of the wave into last December’s running, when he landed two preps and worked out a beautiful trip to edge then-stablemate D B Pin. But Mr Stunning has been a bridesmaid in his five subsequent starts. Transferred to trainer Frankie Lor ahead of this term, he must find a way to regain the podium from budding star Hot King Prawn and divisional champion Ivictory.
Mr Stunning’s former trainer, John Size, once again holds a formidable hand with early favorite Hot King Prawn, Chairman’s Sprint Prize (G1) winner Ivictory, last year’s runner-up D B Pin, and Beat the Clock, knocking on the door after placing in his three Group 1 attempts. Hot King Prawn boasts a 9-for-10 lifetime mark after sweeping all three of his preps, capped by the Jockey Club Sprint (G2). But now the blazing speedster will have to confirm the form at level weights.
The three internationals venturing into the lion’s den are Godolphin’s Japanese homebred Fine Needle, who turned the Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1)/Sprinters S. (G1) double; Singapore’s Lim’s Cruiser; and multiple British Group 2 scorer Sir Dancealot, up against it trying to become the race’s first-ever European winner.
The remaining locals are class climber Little Giant; Pingwu Spark, adding blinkers and eligible to appreciate the cutback in trip from a mile; and those who need to step up from prep losses, Winner’s Way and Born in China.
HONG KONG MILE (7TH Race, 2:50 a.m. EST)
Beauty Generation, currently the world’s top-rated miler, aims to join Good Ba Ba (2007-09) as the race’s only multiple winner since it became a 1600-meter event in 1999. The John Moore trainee has added two more Group 1 laurels, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (G1) and Champions Mile (G1), and warmed up with a trio of prep scores this fall. Beauty Generation broke the course record when blitzing in 1:32.64 in the Jockey Club Mile (G2) last out, despite foot trouble, and Moore avers he’s pitch-perfect.
Hong Kong has won 11 of the past 12 editions, but that hasn’t dissuaded the seven shippers. It took a horse the caliber of Japanese superstar Maurice (2015) to thwart the locals during this time span, and compatriots Vivlos, Persian Knight, and Mozu Ascot hope to emulate him. Vivlos, Japan’s champion older female after her victory in the 2017 Dubai Turf (G1), was runner-up in her Dubai World Cup night title defense and now reverts in trip after a pair of forgettable efforts going longer. Persian Knight just missed in his repeat bid in the Mile Championship (G1), where Mozu Ascot, the Yasuda Kinen (G1) hero, was a toss-out 13th.
Although Winx isn’t here, stablemate Comin’ Through ventures from Australia, a country thrice successful in the early years of the Hong Kong International Bowl. The Chris Waller pupil earned his signature win in the Doomben Cup (G1) at about 1 1/4 miles, but has form at this distance, most notably his second in the Doncaster Mile (G1).
The Mile hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Europeans. Prix de la Foret (G1) upsetter One Master, fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), tries to defy the stats. Fabre’s Inns of Court, just denied in the Foret, is still looking for an elusive Group 1, as is the hit-or-miss Beat the Bank.
If Beauty Generation is the one to beat, the rest of the Hong Kong team isn’t to be overlooked either. Rounding out the superfecta behind him in the Jockey Club Mile were Southern Legend, who plundered the Kranji Mile in Singapore; Beauty Only, the 2016 Mile winner, who has found life much tougher ever since; and Singapore Sling, who distinguished himself during Hong Kong’s Four-Year-Old Series and chased Beauty Generation home two back. Nothingilikemore has fallen off since his sparkling score in the first leg of the series, the Hong Kong Classic Mile, while his stablemate from the Size yard, What Else But You, takes a class hike. Fifty Fifty, stretching out again after solid sprint efforts, would factor if running back to his close second in the course-and-distance Stewards’ Cup (G1).
HONG KONG CUP (8TH Race, 3:30 a.m. EST)
Hong Kong used to have a harder task to keep the most lucrative race, the $3.6 million Cup, at home, but that trend has been reversed in recent years. Five of the last seven editions have gone to the locals, with Japan intervening in the other two years. That rivalry is the top storyline going into Sunday’s renewal of the about 1 1/4-mile affair.
Time Warp, the feast-or-famine front runner, hopes to become the second repeat Cup winner after California Memory (2011-12) – also trained by Cruz, the all-time HKIR leader. Lethal if he gets into a comfortable rhythm, Time Warp set a course record of 1:59.97 in February’s Hong Kong Gold Cup (G1), a mark later lowered by his upwardly mobile full brother Glorious Forever.
The siblings clashed in the November 4 Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse (G3), with Time Warp leading all the way to hold off Glorious Forever. The emerging rivalry carried over into the Jockey Club Cup, but the brothers dueled each other into oblivion and set it up for Vase contender Eagle Way to roll in another course record 1:59.30. Less forceful tactics are expected from Glorious Forever here.
With last year’s runner-up, Werther, ruled out by a suspensory injury, the rest of the Hong Kong deputation is sorting itself out. Northern Superstar, a South African champion under the name of Edict of Nantes, makes just his second local start after a year-long layoff. Seasons Bloom hasn’t progressed at a mile since his Stewards’ Cup win, so the stretch-out is intriguing for the third-placer to Time Warp and Werther in the Gold Cup. He adds blinkers, as does Gold Mount, who was second to Pakistan Star in the course-and-distance QEII Cup.
Leading the Japanese party is Sungrazer. In career form this campaign, the son of Deep Impact captured the Yomiuri Milers Cup (G2) in a record 1:31.3, successfully stepped up to this trip in the Sapporo Kinen (G2), and exits a second to champion Rey de Oro in the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1). Tenno Sho third, Kiseki, has since come back as the gallant runner-up in Almond Eye’s record-smashing Japan Cup (G1).
Deirdre, dead-heat third in the Dubai Turf, has won both of her ensuing starts versus fellow distaffers (including Vase runner Lys Glacieux). The Harbinger filly returns to this distance for the first time since garnering the Shuka Sho (G1), the final jewel of the Japanese Fillies’ Triple Crown, in 2017. Veteran Staphanos takes his fourth swing at the Cup, with his best result being a third in 2016.
No British-based horse has lifted the Cup since Snow Fairy (2010), and before her Falbrav (2003), so Stormy Antarctic is facing historical headwinds. Consistent since he was gelded in the summer of 2017, the Ed Walker trainee was second to Benbatl in the Grosser Dallmayr Preis-Bayerisches Zuchtrennen (G1) in his only attempt at the trip. Stormy Antarctic has since reverted to a mile, staying on for third in the Woodbine Mile (G1) and fourth to Roaring Lion in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) at Ascot on Champions Day.
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