Queen to add royal touch to Hong Kong's big race meeting
World's highest rated horse, Cirrus des Aigles, 25 Group One winners and three defending champions set next month's event apart
The "turf world championships" at Sha Tin on December 9 will also feature a touch of royalty, with Queen Elizabeth to have her first runner at the HK$72 million Longines Hong Kong International Races.
Trained by Michael Stoute, Carlton House was the beaten favourite in last year's Epsom Derby in the Queen's famous colours, and he will be one of the highlight visitors in the richest of the four races, the HK$22 million Cup.
The Cup will also see French star Cirrus des Aigles, with an international rating of 130, become the highest-rated horse yet to run at Sha Tin - something he shared at the 128 mark previously. Although he has yet to show his best in three visits to the HKIR, Cirrus des Aigles has not finished out of a place in the past three years in Europe, and is the highest-rated horse on the planet since Frankel's retirement.
"The Longines Hong Kong International Races continue to attract elite runners from across the globe," said executive director of racing Bill Nader.
"Year on year, the wide response from leading horsemen emphasises the premier standing of this great occasion as the turf world championships.
"Our selected runners for the 2012 event represent a deep pool of talent. They include show-stoppers such as the world's top-rated horse in training, Cirrus des Aigles; Europe's champion three-year-old filly, The Fugue; Classic winners Saonois and Dancing Rain; the Caulfield Cup hero and defending Vase champion Dunaden; and Australian sprint star Sea Siren."
There are 25 Group One winners from nine jurisdictions among the 32 invited visitors, and three of last year's winners will defend their titles - Dunaden (Vase), Lucky Nine (Sprint) and California Memory (Cup).
In recent years, the main foreign raiding party has been the French and there will be nine runners sporting the tricolour flag again, but Japan also sends five Group One winners, targeting mainly the Sprint and the Mile with star sprinter Curren Chan making her final racecourse appearance at Sha Tin.
As usual, Hong Kong's strongest prospects look to lie in the Sprint, which has gone overseas only once since 2001, and the Mile, which has stayed at home for the past six runnings. The Mile appears the race of the day, with Ambitious Dragon, Glorious Days, Xtension and Packing Whiz lining up against the quinella pair in the Group One Kyoto Mile Championship last Sunday, Sadamu Patek and Grand Prix Boss, with the latter also runner-up in the mid-year Yasuda Kinen.
Also in the Mile, the "Jim And Tonic team" of trainer Francois Doumen and jockey Gerald Mosse is back together again, with French mare Siyouma coming off successive Group One wins in England and Canada.
The local iron grip on the Sprint title, perhaps assisted by Little Bridge's Royal Ascot win, has finally intimidated Europe out of the race altogether, with Singapore, Australia and Japan providing the only opposition to Lucky Nine and company.
Fifteen of the last 18 Hong Kong Vases have been won by the French or English visitors, and those two countries will provide 11 of the 14 Vase runners in a race for which even local horses to just appear have been hard to find, with just two.
Dunaden runs for France, even though his three big wins have all come on foreign soil - last year's Melbourne Cup and Vase and this year's Caulfield Cup, but he faces a tough contingent of fellow Europeans that includes the horse which beat him at Royal Ascot, Sea Moon.