A thrilling renewal of the HK$12 million Group One Champions Mile is in prospect on May 4, with dual South African Horse Of The Year, Variety Club, one of the headline visitors along with one of the world's most influential new owners.
Variety Club has been an extraordinarily prolific winner, with 16 victories from a 22-start career, the latest coming in a comprehensive Godolphin Mile success on Dubai World Cup night for his South African trainer, Joey Ramsden.
However, connections had flagged prior to that race that Variety Club would move to the care of Mike de Kock to continue campaigning on the international scene, with the Champions Mile always intended as the first port of call.
His arrival will not be any more significant though than that of the Mikel Delzangles-trained Mshawish, who has run some nice races in Dubai, but more notably was the first runner in Hong Kong for Al Shaqab Racing, the vehicle of Qatar's Sheik Joann Al Thani, owner of Treve.
The Champions Mile will again be one of the highest-rated races in the world this year, with the floor an international rating of 111 and the top-rated runner in the 14-strong field 2013 Hong Kong Mile hero Glorious Days on 121, although the foreign component of the race is light on numbers.
Variety Club and Mshawish are joined by Gordon Lord Byron, a recent Group One winner in Sydney and a familiar name, with the Irish-trained horse having finished fourth to Ambitious Dragon and then Glorious Days in the past two Hong Kong Miles. Leading local jockey Zac Purton gets the ride.
Japanese six-year-old Meiner Lacrima makes up the fourth visitor, and is the lowest-rated runner on 111 with just two career wins, once at a mile and once at 2,000m. He hasn't raced at Group One level since his two and three-year-old days but is coming off a Group Two fourth last month at home, beaten less than four lengths by Just A Way before that winner took the Dubai Duty Free apart.
There is depth to the hometown team, led by Glorious Days, Gold-Fun, last year's winner Dan Excel and runner-up Helene Spirit, with Stewards' Cup winner Blazing Speed also in the line-up. Between them, they have won every open age 1,600m Group race at Sha Tin in the last year.
Add Able Friend, the Classic Mile winner against his own age, and the set of Group mile winners is complete.
Adding interest to the race, Tony Cruz-trained California Memory is among the selected runners, making his reappearance after being sidelined with a suspensory ligament injury in November. "The Champions Mile is among the list of the world's top 50 Group One races and the 2014 edition is yet another outstanding race. Perhaps one from this quartet of international challengers has what it takes to end the local dominance," said Jockey Club executive director of racing, Bill Nader. "It promises to be world-class racing at its very best."
In other news, French star Cirrus des Aigles has been withdrawn from the HK$14 million Audemars Piguet QE II Cup at Sha Tin on April 27, reducing the field to 11 runners.
The eight-year-old was among five foreign invitees to the Group One international on Sunday week but Trainer Corinne Barande-Barbe has had a change of heart and Cirrus des Aigles will take on Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe champion, Treve, in the Prix Ganay in France on the same day.