Females in line to dominate Hong Kong International Races
Three years since the last female winner at the $72 million Longines Hong Kong International Races extravaganza, it will be the superstar girls who hold the spotlight for the world turf championships at Sha Tin on December 8.
Twenty seven foreign invitees from France, Japan, Great Britain, the United States, Ireland, Germany and Australia, with dozens of Group One wins to their collective credit, will face off with 28 local runners in next month's four-race showpiece, and champion Japanese sprinter Lord Kanaloa will have to battle for top billing with the female sensations Moonlight Cloud, Sky Lantern and The Fugue.
"The outstanding quality of this year's overseas selections for the Longines Hong Kong International Races emphasises the esteem in which this event is held and its importance in the international calendar," said the Jockey Club's executive director of racing, Bill Nader.
"Moonlight Cloud is one of the sport's true show stoppers. Her presence alongside champions that include European Classic winners, a Breeders Cup winner and two returning heroes from last year's edition of the Turf World Championships, is testament to the event's premier standing among international horsemen."
That female horses have performed well over the years at the meeting has not escaped the attention of foreign trainers, though their success has generally been in the longer events, winning three times in each of the Cup and the Vase in the past decade. This time, the highlight girl power appears in the Mile, where only New Zealand's Sunline has been successful 13 years ago for the fillies and mares.
French mare Moonlight Cloud is a winner 12 times from her 19 starts, with six Group One wins, but she is almost as famous for having run unbeaten Australian legend, Black Caviar, to a photo finish at Royal Ascot last year. The Freddy Head-trained mare is at the peak of her powers now and looking for a perfect five from five for the calendar year when she tackles the Hong Kong Mile.
British-trained Sky Lantern is not far behind her with four Group Ones and connections have elected to switch to the 1,600m distance to take on Moonlight Cloud after earlier flagging a tilt at the longer Hong Kong Cup might be more likely.
The Fugue from the John Gosden yard in Britain is a three-time Group One winner, including a recent decision over Roger Charlton-trained star Al Kazeem in the Irish Champion Stakes, and connections will be hoping a win can erase from memory a desperately unlucky defeat at Santa Anita recently in the Breeders' Cup Turf.
The Fugue had been supplemented to run in the 2012 Vase but ultimately didn't make the trip after failing to please in training and also hoping for better luck this year will be Luca Cumani's team with Mount Athos, another 2012 Vase selection who missed the race after running below expectations in the Japan Cup.
The Melbourne Cup placegetter comes straight here this time but the Japan Cup will be a factor again, with Melbourne Cup fourth and Vase selection Simenon scheduled to take part in Tokyo on Sunday.
Four of the first five horses home in the Melbourne Cup are amongst the invited Vase runners, with Ronald Arculli-owned Red Cadeaux back to defend his crown at his third consecutive appearance at the meeting.
Leading the way for the male visitors will be Lord Kanaloa in what may be his last race before a stud career. The Japanese star dabbled successfully with racing over further this season with a view to perhaps taking on the Mile, but connections have elected to stick with a winning formula and target a defence of the Hong Kong Sprint in what could shape up as the five-year-old stallion versus Hong Kong.
The meeting's highest-rated runner - before the weight allowance for females - is Military Attack, a rare honour for a locally-trained horse, just in front of French-trained warrior Cirrus des Aigles who will make his fifth trip to Sha Tin in hopes of his fourth race, after pulling out on race eve last year with a leg problem. The pair will clash in the $22 million Cup over 2,000m, historically the most diverse of the four events but this year dominated by local horses, which make up more than half of the field.
The figure of 27 foreign invitees in the total of 55 names selected is down slightly on 31 visitors last year.