Ethereal connections ponder U-turn on HK Vase entry
Australasia's champion staying mare, Ethereal, may do another about-face and line up for the $14 million Hong Kong Vase (2,400m) on December 16 after being named among the invited runners yesterday.
'Trainer Sheila Laxon has indicated to us that she is very keen to bring Ethereal for the Vase,' said the Jockey Club's Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges. 'The mare's owners, the Vela brothers, are still undecided but we hope they are going to be guided by their trainer.
'Stayers cannot achieve much more in Australia than to win the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups and it would be a marvellous thing if the daughter of a previous Hong Kong Cup winner in Romanee Conti could win at the International meeting.'
After Ethereal won the Caulfield Cup, connections targeted the Vase but switched back to the Melbourne Cup again and last Tuesday she became just the 11th horse and third mare to win the double in well over 100 years.
She will face a stern test in the Vase, however, headed by last year's winner Daliapour; Dubai Sheema Classic victor Stay Gold; and North American pair, White Heart and With Anticipation.
'With Anticipation defeated Silvano in the Man O' War Stakes for his second Group One this summer and is one of America's best turf horses and, with White Heart, a Japan Cup runner in two weeks, he will be part of a very strong American challenge,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said.
Daliapour shaped well enough in his first run since returning to Sir Michael Stoute's stables, when fourth past the post before being demoted to seventh in the Canadian International at Woodbine recently and finished alongside another Vase entry, Mark Johnston's Zindabad.
Godolphin's invitee, Kutub, is a triple Group One winner in Europe recently who was due to race last night in the Singapore Gold Cup at Kranji, and German Paolini, is also a dual Group One winner this year.
Engelbrecht-Bresges said the Hong Kong Sprint, upgraded in July from a Group Three to a Group Two international rating, would be a justifiable international Group One based on the level of the anticipated runners this year.
'The Sprint is an absolutely super race. If you look at the horses we have this year, there are the winner and runner-up from 2000, Falvelon and Morluc, and we expect Hong Kong will be represented by King Of Danes again so we will have the three placegetters back from the last running,' he said. 'On top of that, we have Caller One, who has a rating of 122 and is one the top American sprinters. He won the Dubai Golden Shaheen in March and was third in the Breeders Cup Sprint.
'Across the invited horses, the average international rating is getting very close to 115 and that is certainly top class. In Europe, there are a number of well-established Group One sprint races with usual average ratings of around 113 or 114, so you can see that our race is right up to that quality.'
Defending champion Falvelon has had his problems during the Melbourne spring carnival, notably the muscle soreness which struck him after his surprise defeat at Caulfield on October 13. However, trainer Danny Bougoure has remained confident he will have Falvelon right for the Hong Kong Sprint again.