Champ Snow Fairy takes the 'easier' route to glory
English trainer Ed Dunlop admits he has taken the easier option with outstanding mare Snow Fairy, who will still face a field brimming with nine Group One winners in the 2011 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase (2,400m).
A brilliant winner of last year's Hong Kong Cup (2,000m) as a three-year-old, Snow Fairy was dual-nominated for both the Cup and Vase, but Dunlop has avoided a clash with some stars - and found some others - by heading to the longer trip.
Snow Fairy seems equally as effective over 10 or 12 furlongs, but the presence in the Cup of Ambitious Dragon and Cirrus des Aigles- who beat her in the Champion Stakes at Ascot last month - seem to have swayed the English trainer's decision.
'We can never be sure about winning ... but we believe it was an easier option,' said Dunlop, who also has Hong Kong-owned Red Cadeaux entered, setting up a rematch with Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden.
Hong Kong Jockey Club executive director of racing Bill Nader said Dunlop was 'locked-in' to his decision with Snow Fairy and was somewhat surprised he had leant that way.
'I know he was labouring over the decision and I thought as defending Cup winner he might head that way,' Nader said. 'But she's a versatile horse that can go either way, she's one of those rare horses that could compete equally at both distances.'
Snow Fairy completed a stunning come-from-behind win in the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup (2,200m) in Japan earlier this month, the same race she won in the lead up to last year's Cup.
The win in Kyoto was her first after the spectacular effort at Sha Tin last December, but Snow Fairy has been mixing it with the best since then. As well as being runner-up in the Champion Stakes, she has twice run into So You Think and was third in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The Vase continually produces a world-class field, albeit one without a standout Hong Kong performer.
Europeans have dominated the event since its inception: only one Hong Kong horse has won, Indigenous back in 1998. Just three Hong Kong horses make up the numbers this year: Mighty High and Mr Medici, plus Sunday's Jockey Club Cup winner Thumbs Up.
As usual the quality comes from Europe, with five French-trained runners, led by Dunaden, heading the northern charge.
Frenchman Alain de Royer Dupre - who won the Vase in 2009 with Darykana - left last year's beaten favourite Americain in Australia, but brings two quality horses: late entry Vadamar and three-year-old filly Shareta, who contests Sunday's Japan Cup. Shareta is one of three Vase entrants entered at Tokyo, along with Sarah Lynx and Trailblazer.
Japan Cup runners have an excellent record in Hong Kong with Vase winners Borgia (1999), Stay Gold (2001), Phoenix Reach (2004) and Ouija Board (2005) all coming through the rich 2,400m race.
Godolphin broke their drought in the Vase last year and trainer Saeed bin Suroor has aimed Campanologist at the 2011 race.