For the first time next month, Sha Tin will host a runner owned by Queen Elizabeth after Carlton House was among the seven invited foreign-trained runners yesterday for the HK$22 million Longines Hong Kong Cup.
The Sir Michael Stoute-trained four-year-old has been lightly raced this year with only four starts - his last-start fourth in the British Champions Mile in October was his first since July, so he comes in fresher than many.
The Cup has been probably the most diverse of the four international races, with winners since the turn of the century from France, Ireland, Great Britain, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Japan and Hong Kong, and six jurisdictions will be represented next month.
French star Cirrus des Aigles was the joint-highest rated horse yet to run at Sha Tin when he finished fifth in last year's Cup with an international rating of 128, but he will have that honour all to himself this time with a 130 rating now. Cirrus des Aigles has missed a place only once in three years in Europe, though we have not seen him finish in a placing in three previous visits to Hong Kong, with his best run his first when a close fifth in the 2009 Vase after racing wide throughout.
In 2012, the six-year-old has had six runs for three wins and three seconds at home, his most recent and best this year was when he made Frankel dig into his reserves a little to beat him in the Champion Stakes at Ascot last month. His compatriot, Giofra, finished eight lengths behind Cirrus des Aigles in the Prix Ganay in April, but has an ominous and familiar look about her form.
Trainer Alain de Royer Dupre has had considerable success here with lightly raced females arriving on a solid form record and Giofra's eight starts for four wins and two placings fits that bill. Prix Niel winner Saonois completes the French challenge for a race they took out twice in the past six runnings with de Royer Dupre-trained Pride and then Vision D'Etat.
Alcopop, the Mackinnon Stakes winner at the Melbourne Cup carnival, is one of two horses supplemented to the internationals and will become the first Australian-trained runner in the Cup since Fields Of Omagh in 2004. He also shares the honour, jointly with Japan's Jaguar Mail in the Vase, of being the oldest foreign invitee at eight years of age.
Forte dei Marmi, third in the Canadian International at Woodbine, will give Canada a rare representation and rounding out the visitors will be Michael Figge-trained German colt Feuerblitz, the Italian Derby winner earlier in the year, and runner-up in Group Ones in Germany and Italy at his last three starts.
For the home team, John Moore holds the strongest hand numerically with four runners in a race he has won once, 19 years ago with Motivation. Irian, Dan Excel, Military Attack and Zaidan are there but Dominant, who had been suggested as a possible for this race, has gone for a break after scans this week showed a suspensory ligament tear below his right hind hock.
But the best hope of a local win looks to rest again with Tony Cruz-trained grey California Memory, back in form at the right time with Sunday's Jockey Club Cup victory and ready to defend the race he took brilliantly in 2011.