'This is absolutely smashing. It's the kind of race we are out to achieve,' says Engelbrecht-Bresges of Mile line-up
The Hong Kong Jockey Club's grand plan to make its $54 million International races the turf world championship moved closer yesterday when an 'outstanding' list of 40 invitees from nine countries were unveiled for the showpiece fixture on December 16.
And, just as it did last year, the $14 million Hong Kong Mile is set to take centre stage again. Sunline is rated 'an 80 per cent chance' to defend the title she won by a short-head from Fairy King Prawn last year, and the Group One race has also attracted Slickly, the highest-rated older miler in Europe, Breeders' Cup Mile runner-up Forbidden Apple from the United States and the Japanese-trained Trot Star. And that clash of the continents is given further spice by the expected presence of Fairy King Prawn and Electronic Unicorn, the two highest-rated horses in Hong Kong.
'Our aim with the International races is to become the world championship of racing and the Hong Kong Mile this year gets very close to it,' said Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the Jockey Club's director of racing.
'This is absolutely smashing. It's the kind of race we are out to achieve. We have last year's winner and runner-up [Fairy King Prawn] and overall the race will have top-class horses from Australia, Japan, America and Europe, as well as our own. We have taken three years to get to this point, but we have in the Mile as good a race on turf as you will see this year.'
The Jockey Club increased prize-money by $14 million, or 35 per cent, for this year's International meeting and already its efforts seem to be paying off. 'Naturally, we would have liked Fantastic Light or Sakhee or Galileo to come,' said Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, 'but the list is still outstanding. Even without them, the average ratings of all four events are higher than for last year's International races and we have such strength in depth that we have had to put Group One winners on the standby list.'
Engelbrecht-Bresges said the standards of the recent Breeders' Cup meeting in the United States had set the level high for the Club, but that Hong Kong's showpiece would be a more international event. 'We have horses from northern and southern hemispheres, from east and west,' he said. 'In all respects, the Breeders' Cup was a great race meeting, but it is essentially a championship for American and European horses.
'There are some very good horses in the southern hemisphere and in Asia, and this is borne out by the results when they compete in Hong Kong with the best of Europe and America. I think that right now the Dubai World Cup meeting is probably closer to a world championship than the Breeders' Cup because there is participation from more countries, but in Hong Kong we are hoping for an even wider spread of competition.'
The Mile entries have been slightly weakened by the preference for the Hong Kong Cup with Breeders' Cup Mile winner Val Royal and third placegetter Bach, but the international cast remains formidable.
Earlier this week, trainer Trevor McKee said no decision had been made on a trip for last year's winner, the New Zealand-trained mare Sunline, but a firm announcement would be made this week. 'After speaking with Mr McKee on Friday, we believe there is an 80 per cent chance she will come,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said yesterday.
The mare failed in her attempt to win a third successive W S Cox Plate at Moonee Valley on October 27 when run down by Australia's new star, Northerly, in a roughhouse finish, but McKee said she had been unharmed.
'Sunline came through the race OK. She's a seasoned traveller and seems to be fine after the trip home,' he said from his Auckland stables. 'I'd just like to see her for a couple more days.'
Sunline is scheduled to run in a 1,400-metre event at Pukekohe, near Auckland, later this month, the same path she followed on her way to a successful Hong Kong Mile assault last year.
Australia's Shogun Lodge, who holds a decision over Sunline at 1,600 metres and a recent second to Northerly, is a three-time Group One winner, as is late entry Show A Heart, but the latter's participation is already in doubt. Show A Heart was scratched from the Group One Emirates Stakes at Flemington yesterday after developing a high temperature.
Trainer Barry Miller said he believed it may have been a side-effect of the inoculation for Hong Kong and his plan was to keep Show A Heart in training in the hope he would throw it off in a day or two. However, if the virus which has affected some horses in Melbourne during the carnival turns out to be the problem, Show A Heart will be spelled.