Hong Kong's top horses prepare to take on the world's finest

Overseas raiders appear to have the upper hand, but locals have law of averages on their side

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 December, 2013, 11:28pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 December, 2013, 11:28pm


It's the day Hong Kong racing measures itself against the world and it has made a good fist of doing so with some credit in the past decade, but it all starts again on Saturday afternoon with the 2013 Longines Hong Kong International Races.

Hong Kong's heroes have kept a steady recent strike rate up with their home-ground advantage in these internationals, claiming around half of them over time and not always with the most heralded locals.

Will the law of those averages fall to bless Horse of the Year Military Attack, or Derby winner Akeed Mofeed? Or are there upsets in the wind?

The rider felt he was too relaxed, so we put him through some hard work earlier in the week
Trainer Takayuki Yasuda on Lord Kanaloa

Can Cirrus des Aigles, the working class hero of Europe, finally show us what we've missed?

The Vase lost some of its lustre on Saturday, with soft tissue injuries to the Marco Botti-trained Dandino and the David Wachman-trained Galileo Rock taking them out of the equation, and the nagging persistent rumours that on Sunday may see another withdrawal.

It's the nature of racing, and racing at the top level does not escape. Like footballers or sportsmen of any kind, racehorses are athletes frequently nursing an ache or a pain somewhere but the top ones are committed enough to run through it and still perform if they can only take the stage and get the adrenaline flowing.

In recent HKIR meetings, we've seen those last-minute scrambles to get to the starting post pay off. Vision D'Etat had a race-eve cloud over him before winning the Cup in 2009 and Ambitious Dragon passed the vets only at the 11th hour to run in and ultimately win the Mile last year.

If Sunday's HKIR had a title, it might be Three Fillies and a Stallion, with no Hugh Grant in sight.

The boldest billing has been reserved for Moonlight Cloud, Sky Lantern, The Fugue and the colossal Japanese sprinter, Lord Kanaloa.

As he did last year, Lord Kanaloa had his final piece of work the day prior to racing, a rarity in racehorse training, but the pattern employed by Takayuki Yasuda, far and away Japan's leading trainer of sprinters recently.

Unlike last year, Lord Kanaloa won't be back to defend the title if he wins the Sprint again, with this his final detour before the breeding barn, and his people have pushed all their chips onto the table this week at trackwork.

"He is more relaxed and at ease than he was last year. The rider felt he was too relaxed, so we put him through some hard work earlier in the week.

"We wouldn't have been happy with any draw from one to five - we were hoping for an outside gate," said the trainer on Saturday.

Wish granted. Be careful what you wish for - wide draws in the Sprint have felled big names before. The Lord versus Hong Kong awaits.

Moonlight Cloud, too, may be looking at a racecourse for the final time after her six Group One wins and a second to Black Caviar, which made her more famous around the world than the rest of her career.

She was nearly the party pooper for the unbeaten one at Royal Ascot - on Sunday the tables are turned and a younger usurper in Sky Lantern will be looking to poop on the going-away party for Freddy Head's great mare.

They've come nearly 10,000 kilometres for a match-up that surely might have happened closer to home, but there are plenty of others keen to wreck the story.

Hong Kong's milers may or may not be as good as in the past, but they have been tough on home soil for quite a while.

John Size is seeking redemption in the race after training four Mile seconds, and just a little slice of history as well, if Glorious Days can be the first horse ever to win a major on international day fresh from a six-month break.

The Vase is where the local resistance evaporates, Europe takes over and globetrotters like Red Cadeaux, Dunaden and Mount Athos get their chance but they must reckon with The Fugue.

Was Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber's angel of the track beaten by a freak in Los Angeles? She's here, and looking for some redemption herself.

It's the day of days at Sha Tin, the weather is co-operative. Let the measuring begin.