The notion that Able Friend’s imposing reputation would scare off prospective Longines Hong Kong Mile rivals has been blown apart by an impressive foreign contingent featuring six Group One winners ready to shake the local stranglehold on the event.
In the nine international racedays since Japan’s Hat Trick won the 2005 Mile, an overseas runner hasn’t been able to take the HK$23 million feature, with only two internationals running a place, and a decade later it is again a horse from the Land of the Rising Sun that will perhaps pose the biggest threat.
Noriyuki Hori’s outstanding four-year-old Maurice has won five straight, including Japan’s two biggest mile races at his last two starts, and has the added bonus of big race jockey Ryan Moore as pilot.
Maurice was a dominant winner in the Mile Championship at Kyoto last Sunday, the same race Hat Trick and the other Japanese winner of the race, Eishin Preston (2001), competed in before coming to Sha Tin.
The horse Maurice beat into second at Kyoto, Fiero, also returns for a second crack at the Mile after an unplaced run last year, along with exciting three-year-old colt Danon Platina, a Group One winner at two.
There is serious depth to the visiting brigade, with all four European-trained runners having won at the highest level.
David O’Meara’s tough five-year-old Mondialiste has been unplaced just once in eight starts this year, has won three of his last four and was an eye-catching second in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Esoterique was given no chance in that same race with a torrid wide run, but the Andre Fabre-trained mare oozes class and was in exceptional form before that, taking two Group Ones and earlier in the season finishing ahead of Able Friend when second to Solow in the Queen Anne Stakes.
Richard Hannon’s well-travelled Toormore also beat Able Friend home in that famous Royal Ascot flop and arrives in form after subsequent wins at Goodwood and in Turkey, plus a Group One placing in France.
Even German-trained Red Dubawi, a seven-year-old that has mixed form in his travels, provides a certain X-factor in the race after an impressive last start win in Italy and provides some added interest with former Hong Kong-based jockey Andreas Suborics aboard.
Of course most travel plans were already locked in before Able Friend’s shock last-start defeat in the local lead-up, but the result would have boosted the confidence of rivals – not just visitors, but also domestically, not least of all for the two horses that beat him home, Beauty Flame and Contentment.
Other locals lining up include Giant Treasure, Packing Pins, Rewarding Hero and Secret Sham, all with something to find on their weekend efforts.