Hong Kong hopes rest on Military Attack
Local horses are going to find it tough on international day, judging by the performances in Sunday's trials
Over the past decade or so, Hong Kong has at least held its own in international feature races on home soil but the impression that was difficult to shake after Sunday's trial events was that things are going to be tougher on December 8.
As a long-term proposition, a win rate of 50 per cent for local horses in the six international races staged each season has been a reasonable and achievable expectation, assisted by the lack of foreign opposition in some of them, particularly the Champions Mile in May.
At the December meeting, that has been balanced up by the 2,400m Vase, which was unwinnable for locals and the property of the European visitors, in particular, while the Sprint and the Mile have trended strongly to the home team.
The Cup over 2,000m had often looked a benchmark just too high for the local horses but wins by Vengeance Of Rain and California Memory put some respectability back into the results more recently.
We have become used to Hong Kong horses being competitive in three of the four races, at least, but the weekend suggested that expectation might have to be watered down this year, even with the home-track advantages, and one win could be a good result.
For one thing, we don't think Lord Kanaloa's connections were shaking in their boots about taking on the Hong Kong sprinters after Charles The Great beat Sterling City in what did not look a vintage edition, although the Jockey Club Sprint has a chequered history as a guide anyway.
Oddly enough, the designated lead-up winners don't have an overwhelming record of taking out the main game since the days of Silent Witness or the early Sacred Kingdom.
Perhaps Hong Kong can still hang on to the Sprint if somehow Lord Kanaloa is beaten as there is a dearth of scary turf sprinters of the kind Australia might manage if in fact Australian sprinters did come. The only one spoken of as a possibility, Aeronautical, does not fall into the threatening category though.
For the Hong Kong Mile, it's hard to escape the notion that the trial event had the look of a second running of the Sha Tin Trophy. If Real Specialist had had more room through the race, he might easily have run third to complete a tierce replay behind Gold-Fun and Helene Spirit.
Instead Xtension was able to grab third - in the light of his form in the past year or so, that can be seen as either encouraging or discouraging.
Twelve months ago, it was Glorious Days and Ambitious Dragon who looked the towering home-ground fortress to visitors but, while Glorious Days is still to run this season, it is the visitors with the intimidating reputations. Moonlight Cloud's last win in France was extraordinarily good, while the English-trained Sky Lantern will also bring a towering reputation.
If there was a race that gave encouragement it was the Jockey Club Cup, and especially Military Attack's performance.
Since Jim And Tonic set the course record for 2000m in the 1999 QE II Cup, only five horses have broken two minutes and one second for the distance, and Endowing's 2:0.6 was faster than any horse has run there since Industrialist's 2000 Gold Cup win.
So it wasn't just a fast track that was running the time Sunday, they went genuinely quick, so Military Attack was really working when he went forward in that hot speed from a wide draw. Had he even dropped out of the placings in the final 100m, he had a full excuse, but he didn't and that speaks volumes for his performance.