Asian Racing Federation countries are to the fore in the 56 runners selected for the horseracing’s annual year-end major meeting, the HK$83 million LONGINES Hong Kong International Races, at Sha Tin on Sunday, December 11th.
The LONGINES HKIR comprises the HK$25 million LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m), the HK$23 million LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m), the HK$18.5 million LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and the HK$16.5 million LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m). With 28 overseas runners and 28 Hong Kong representatives, horses from nine international jurisdictions are set to compete at this year’s Turf World Championships.
Maurice is set to lead a record 13-strong Japanese contingent and is one of 10 Group 1 winners among the 14 selected runners for the Cup. A Shin Hikari dominated last year’s race with a stunning front-running display and topped the LONGINES World’s Best Racehorse Rankings this spring after a wide margin victory in France’s Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan.
Japan’s strong hand in the race also includes the JRA’s 2015 2000m champion Lovely Day, recent Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2200m) winner Queens Ring, and the high-class Staphanos.
Maurice won an epic edition of last year’s LONGINES Hong Kong Mile and will return this time to attempt a rare LONGINES HKIR double, with victory in what is shaping to be a stellar edition of the Cup.
Japan’s 2015 Horse of the Year is two from two at Sha Tin, having carried off the Group 1 Champions Mile in May. Trainer Noriyuki Hori’s superstar bounced back from two excusable defeats to slam a top-class field in October’s Group 1 Tenno Sho (Autumn) - a fifth Group 1 triumph and first win at 2000m.
Able Friend is one of 14 selected for the Mile. John Moore’s stable star was imperious in winning the 2014 edition, but Maurice was a shade too good for him in 2015. After returning from injury, he aims to become the first horse to regain the Mile title. Set against him are two Japanese stars, both defeaters of Maurice this year.
Three-time Group 1 winner Logotype surprised Japan’s champ in June’s Group 1 Yasuda Kinen (1600m), while Neorealism, an unlucky third in the recent Group 1 Mile Championship, beat Maurice in August’s Group 2 Sapporo Kinen (2000m). Another Japanese raider is Satono Aladdin, a good fifth in the Group 1 Mile Championship at Kyoto last time.
Japan and Australia are represented in the 14 selected for the Sprint. The home team is packed with talent and Japan’s big two are set to face off against them.
Big Arthur looked to be the heir to two-time Hong Kong Sprint winner Lord Kanaloa’s weighty crown when winning the Group 1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1200m) in March. The five-year-old encountered traffic problems in the second of Japan’s two Group 1 sprints, the Sprinters Stakes (2 October), as Red Falx powered wide on the track for a breakthrough victory. The pair heads to Sha Tin to decide championship honours.
Australia’s Rebel Dane, the recent Group 1 Manikato Stakes (1200m) winner, will attempt to end a 15-year wait for a second Australian-trained victor.
From across the Tasman Sea the New Zealand trained and Australian bred Group 2 Brisbane Cup winner Benzini comes to take on the might of Ireland’s Highland Reel who is heading back to Sha Tin in an attempt to become the third dual winner of the Vase in the race’s 22-year history.
While Highland Reel comes from one of the most powerful stables in the world of Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle in Ireland Benzini is trained from the small country town of Hunterville in New Zealand’s North Island. The entire population of Hunterville of some 430 would only be three times the numbers of horses in training at O’Brien’s famed stables.
Highland Reel is heading back to Sha Tin in an attempt to become the third dual winner of the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase in the race’s 22-year history. The four-year-old cut his own slice of history in 2015 when he provided O’Brien with a first success in Hong Kong.
Overall the quality of the meeting is emphasised by the 26 Group 1 winners among the 56 selected runners, including all four of last year’s champions: Maurice, A Shin Hikari, Highland Reel, and Hong Kong’s own Peniaphobia.
Mr. Anthony Kelly, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Executive Director, Racing Business and Operations, said: “Last year, the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races more than lived up to its reputation as a showcase for exceptional talent. The occasion produced four stunning races, with each winner a world-calibre Group 1 star. In keeping with the event’s tradition of excellence, we are pleased to see the depth of quality to the selected runners for the 2016 races.
“All four of the 2015 champions are set to compete again, and the home team will have its work cut out to better the one win achieved last time around. It is particularly exciting to see Maurice’s connections sportingly opting to take on the challenge of the Cup rather than the Mile this time. Add to the mix the rematch between Japan’s Big Arthur and Red Falx, the return of Able Friend, the continuing exploits of Highland Reel, and an altogether world class line-up of challengers primed for competition, and it’s safe to say we are in for a year-end treat on 11 December. The LONGINES Hong Kong International Races is global horseracing at its best.”