image

Longines Hong Kong International Races 2016

Read our in-depth guide to all of this year's Longines Hong Kong Sprint contenders

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 December, 2015, 1:21am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 December, 2015, 9:54am

The Hong Kong International Races are less than two weeks away, with the main contenders beginning to fly in from all corners of the world for next Sunday's turf world championships.

The shortest of the four HKIR features is the HK$18.5 million Longines Hong Kong Sprint (1,200m), and with an honour roll featuring names like Fairy King Prawn (1999), Falvelon (2000, 2001), Silent Witness (2003, 2004), Sacred Kingdom (2007, 2009), J J The Jet Plane (2010), Lord Kanaloa (2012, 2013) and Aerovelocity (2014), it has quickly become a prominent end of year target for sprinters.

So who are the 14 contenders for this year's Hong Kong Sprint? SCMP writer Andrew Hawkins examines the runners.

GOLD-FUN (IRE)
Six-year-old chestnut gelding

Country: Hong Kong
Trainer: Richard Gibson
Probable jockey: Christophe Soumillon
Owner: Pan Sutong
Breeding: Le Vie Dei Colori x Goodwood March (Foxhound)
Biggest Win: Group One Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1,200m), Sha Tin, 15 February 2015
Last 10 Starts: 12226132x21
International Rating: 119

Born-again sprinter who enters this race as a legitimate favourite. He has always been consistent, placing in 20 of 26 overall career starts, but a switch to sprinting has given him a new lease of life. The flashy chestnut began his career in Ireland with Ger Lyons in late 2011, winning the second of two starts, a 20-runner maiden at Naas, when named Strada Colorato. Was then bought by Pan Sutong and imported to Hong Kong, where he came to hand quickly, winning the 2013 Classic Mile as even money favourite at start four before finishing third to ownermate Akeed Mofeed in the 2013 Hong Kong Derby. Later that year, he was campaigned as a miler, winning the Jockey Club Mile and finishing second in the Hong Kong Mile to Glorious Days, while also proving to be most effective at 1,400m. Last season, he again started out as a miler, but finding the challenge of Able Friend too strong, Richard Gibson stepped him back to 1,200m - a trip he had never contested. It proved a masterstroke, though, as he edged out Aerovelocity in the Chairman's Sprint Prize. He has now built an ominous record at 1,200m of two wins and two placings, including a first-up second to Able Friend before stamping himself as favourite with his Jockey Club Sprint win. Will the switch to sprinting pay off with Hong Kong's ultimate short-course prize?


SOLE POWER (GB)
Eight-year-old bay gelding

Country: Ireland
Trainer: Edward Lynam
Probable jockey: Chris Hayes
Owner: Mrs Sabena Power
Breeding: Kyllachy x Demerger (Distant View)
Biggest Win: Group One Al Quoz Sprint (1,000m), Meydan, 28 March 2015
Last 10 Starts: 89x01654419
International Rating: 118

A perennial visitor to Hong Kong, the Irish idol makes his fourth trip to Sha Tin after three previous attempts at the Sprint. He finished ninth to Lucky Nine in 2011, before somehow managing to chase Lord Kanaloa home at big odds in 2013 - ironically, though, it was the furthest he finished from the winner in any of his three Hong Kong runs, and he has only been beaten by a bigger margin in three of 53 starts. Last year, he was again ninth, this time to Aerovelocity. He has been a super horse at the top level for a long time, much like Lucky Nine, and while his overall form has not been as strong this year, he did manage two top wins - in the Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai and the Flying Five Stakes at home - while arguably his best performance was a fourth to Muhaarar over the undulating Newmarket July course in the July Cup. Across his whole career, he has proven time and time again that he is better at five furlongs instead of six, but that said, he is rarely disgraced at 1,200m and he is always honest and consistent. Hard to see him winning but won't be far behind them at all.


LUCKY NINE (IRE)
Eight-year-old bay gelding

Country: Hong Kong
Trainer: Caspar Fownes
Probable jockey: Brett Prebble
Owner: Chang Fuk-to & Maria Chang Lee Ming-shum
Breeding: Dubawi x Birjand (Green Desert)
Biggest Win: Group One KrisFlyer International Sprint (1,200m), Kranji, 18 May 2014
Last 10 Starts: 1x503093x054
International Rating: 117

A Hong Kong fan favourite, a warrior who remarkably is lining up for his sixth tilt at this race. Rarely is a horse so consistent at the top level - aside from one September effort on opening day, he has only contested Group races dating back to October, 2010. A phenomenal 36 Group One or Group Two races in a row, 11 of them abroad - in Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Australia - is truly something. He has come a long way from the days when he won a Naas maiden in 2010, when he was known as Luck Or Design and was trained by Andrew Oliver. His Hong Kong Sprint record is not overly great, despite the fact he won this race in 2011 - seventh in 2010, fifth in 2012, seventh in 2013, 11th last year. These days, Lucky Nine has old, creaky legs and it is only the magic touch of Caspar Fownes that keeps him competitive. However, he showed a bit of his old spark in the Jockey Club Sprint, running into fourth behind Gold-Fun after they set a suicidal tempo up front. He was also somewhat unlucky when trying to add a third KrisFlyer Sprint in Singapore earlier this year, so on his day he is still a top horse. One would expect him to find these too sharp these days, but that's the thing with Lucky Nine - the moment you overlook him, he makes you out to be a fool. And yet, you can't help but love him.


DUNDONNELL (USA)
Five-year-old bay gelding

Country: Hong Kong
Trainer: Richard Gibson
Probable jockey: Douglas Whyte
Owner: Elizabeth Lee Ho-ling
Breeding: First Defence x Family (Danzig)
Biggest Win: Group Two Sprint Cup (1,200m), Sha Tin, 26 April 2014
Last 10 Starts: 2127417x088
International Rating: 116

Richard Gibson's second stringer, the connections seemed to be in two minds whether to run him before eventually electing to tackle this race, rather than heading for a defence of his title in the Class One 1,400m on the undercard. Raced by Khalid Abdullah and trained by Roger Charlton pre-import, he won the Group Three Acomb Stakes in 2012 from eight starts, also finishing second to Toronado as favourite in the Group Two Champagne Stakes before a fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. He was somewhat rushed to the races when he arrived in an attempt to make the 2014 Classic Mile, which he did - although he finished nine lengths astern of Able Friend. Since then, he hasn't extended beyond 1,400m again, eventually finding form throughout 2014 that made him one of the more consistent horses in town. He won the Sprint Cup in April this year, beating Gold-Fun, but otherwise has looked like he just finds the 1,200m a tad too short. 


MIKKI ISLE (JPN)
Four-year-old bay horse

Country: Japan
Trainer: Hidetaka Otonashi
Probable jockey: Suguru Hamanaka
Owner: Mizuki Noda
Breeding: Deep Impact x Star Isle (Rock Of Gibraltar)
Biggest Win: Group One NHK Mile Cup (1,600m), Tokyo, 11 May 2014
Last 10 Starts: 110x107230x4
International Rating: 116

There are shades of Gold-Fun about Mikki Isle, except they haven't been nearly as successful. A promising three-year-old last year, he won two Group Three races at a mile before taking out the Group One NHK Mile Cup in May. Three runs at a mile since that NHK Mile Cup win have all been disasters, finishing 16th in the Yasuda Kinen last year, 13th in the Mile Championship and 15th in this year's Yasuda Kinen, so he is being tested as a sprinter. It has had moderate success, with a third to Aerovelocity in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen before a fourth last time out in the Sprinters Stakes behind Straight Girl. Notably, both times he has raced handy, striking a moderate tempo in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen and running on strongly while sticking on fairly gamely in the Sprinters Stakes after pulling his way up to join runaway leader Hakusan Moon. It is definitely hard to see him turning the tables on Straight Girl, especially with the likely race shape, but can he stick around for another top four finish?


PENIAPHOBIA (IRE)
Four-year-old bay gelding

Country: Hong Kong
Trainer: Tony Cruz
Probable jockey: Joao Moreira
Owner: Huang Kai-wen
Breeding: Dandy Man x Umlani (Great Commotion)
Biggest Win: Group One Centenary Sprint Cup (1,000m), Sha Tin, 25 January 2015
Last 10 Starts: 1121424x732
International Rating: 116

Arguably the most talented and most brilliant horse in this field, his record should read better than it does - if not for silly tactical decisions, it would. The oddly named horse - it means a fear of poverty - had four starts for Richard Fahey as a juvenile in Britain, winning three of them, including the Weatherbys Super Sprint at Newbury. He made a quick impression in Hong Kong, winning his third start in Class Three in April last year with one of the most impressive wins seen at Happy Valley in recent times, coming from last on the turn to score. By June, he was a Class One winner; in October, a Group Three placegetter; in November, a Group Two winner, taking out a messy Jockey Club Sprint. And his effort to finish second to Aerovelocity was admirable, given the way the race was run and the fact he was still three. He won his next start, the Centenary Sprint Cup, but has not won in six starts since - a combination of factors culminating to beat him. On most occasions, it is the desire to ride him too close early. Still, he is a brave type who always battles on, as best seen in his seconds to Sole Power in the Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai and his last start effort in the Jockey Club Sprint behind Gold-Fun. In the end, it will all come down to tactics. If Joao Moreira is able to ride him midfield or further back, he will be very, very hard to beat. If they go forward on him, he will be in the crosshairs and while he can probably stick on for a placing, it's hard to see him winning. What will they do?


RICH TAPESTRY (IRE)
Seven-year-old bay gelding

Country: Hong Kong
Trainer: Michael Chang Chun-wai
Probable jockey: Tommy Berry
Owner: Silas S S Yang, Wong Tak-wai, Ho Chi-keung & Cheung Yuk-tak
Breeding: Holy Roman Emperor x Genuine Charm (Sadler’s Wells)
Biggest Win: Group One Santa Anita Sprint Championship (1,200m), Santa Anita, 4 October 2014
Last 10 Starts: 96x128x10x35x6
International Rating: 116

Hong Kong's globetrotting sensation, he has his first start at Sha Tin since the Sprint Cup in April, 2014 - to be exact, 595 days. It's not that he hasn't been in Hong Kong, he has done some form of work (swimming, trotting, gallop, barrier trial) at Sha Tin on 291 of those days, he just hasn't raced at home. He's been a busy lad since that Sprint Cup failure, becoming the first Hong Kong horse to win in the United States - on dirt, nonetheless - and running admirable races without winning in the Golden Shaheen in Dubai (third), the KrisFlyer Sprint in Singapore (fifth) and the Sprinters Stakes last start in Japan (sixth). It's a far cry from when he was purchased as a Hong Kong Derby prospect out of Dermot Weld's yard with only a Dundalk win to his name. Rich Tapestry sticks to the turf here ahead of a proposed campaign on dirt in Dubai, and on exposed form looks to be behind the best of the locals and the three Japanese. 


CHARLES THE GREAT (IRE)
Six-year-old bay gelding

Country: Hong Kong
Trainer: John Moore
Probable jockey: Gerald Mosse
Owner: Julian Hui Chun-hang & Michele Reis
Breeding: Holy Roman Emperor x Jojeema (Barathea)
Biggest Win: Group Two Jockey Club Sprint (1,200m), Sha Tin, 17 November 2013
Last 10 Starts: 579x5729x345
International Rating: 115

An honest enough sprinter, Charles The Great is like so many horses in that second echelon in Hong Kong - they can win when circumstances fall into place, but that day comes so rarely, it's not a profitable venture to keep following them blindly. Like Peniaphobia, he raced under the same name in Britain and was a winner of the Weatherbys Super Sprint at Newbury. It was the fourth of his five starts as a two-year-old for Andrew Balding, with the son of Holy Roman Emperor arriving in Hong Kong in late 2011. He took time to acclimatise, finding consistent form quickly but wins hard to come by, eventually winning a Group Three deep into his second season before adding two Group Two wins, the Jockey Club Sprint and the Sprint Cup, in his third season. Since the 2014 Sprint Cup, he has not won again in 12 starts, honest as ever but just unable to crack it for a win. His one attempt at this race yielded an 11th behind Lord Kanaloa in 2013, and a similar run is likely again.


GREEN MASK (USA)
Four-year-old bay or brown gelding

Country: United States
Trainer: Wesley Ward
Probable jockey: Joel Rosario
Owner: Abdullah Saeed Almaddah
Breeding: Mizzen Mast x Bonsai Beauty (Forestry)
Biggest Win: Paradise Creek Stakes (1,408m), Belmont Park, 17 May 2014
Last 10 Starts: 46x114x223x43
International Rating: 115

One of the more unexposed types in this year's field, Green Mask is yet to win a black type event but earns his spot in this race courtesy of his placings in the Al Quoz Sprint behind Sole Power and Peniaphobia in March and the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint behind Mongolian Saturday last start. He created a real impression on debut as a two-year-old in October, 2013, winning a dirt maiden at Keeneland by a space untouched, but he has taken a while to live up to that reputation. He has only won twice since, an allowance at Keeneland and a stakes race at Belmont, but has only missed the top four once in 11 starts. His best asset is a breathtaking turn of foot, best utilised when he is held up for one crack at his rivals. He is trained by Wesley Ward, a handler with a reputation as a good preparer of sprinters and a top traveller of horses - he won two races at Royal Ascot this year, with two-year-old Acapulco and top sprinter Undrafted. Going right handed first time is some concern, but he looks a horse who is fairly tractable and importantly, who is still on an upward spiral.


MONGOLIAN SATURDAY (USA)
Five-year-bay gelding

Country: United States
Trainer: Ganbat Enebish
Probable jockey: Florent Geroux
Owner: Ganbaatar Dagvadorj
Breeding: Any Given Saturday x Miss Hot Salsa (Houston)
Biggest Win: Group One Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (1,106m), Keeneland, 31 October 2015
Last 10 Starts: 313x2221221
International Rating: 115

One of the more quirky stories of this year's HKIR, the American-based horse owned and trained by Mongolians. And a last start Breeders' Cup winner to boot! He has raced at some of the better-known smaller tracks in the United States - Parx and Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania, Mountaineer and Charles Town in West Virginia, Thistledown in Ohio and Indiana Grand in Indiana. The horse has long flirted with the edges of stakes company - he ran in a graded race at Arlington at his fourth start - but it's only been at his last three starts that he has stamped himself as a legitimate stakes contender, albeit in a division (turf sprinters) in which Americans have typically struggled. In the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, he was a longshot but got the perfect pace scenario and just managed to hold off the charge of second favourite Lady Shipman. He looms as a pace influence here, another reason not to send Peniaphobia forward, but that may be Mongolian Saturday's only bearing on the race. He looks to struggle with 1,200m and has to go right-handed for the first time, an obstacle that has brought down many Americans before. Still, no one would be too disappointed to see an Ulaanbaatar party at Sha Tin.


NOT LISTENIN’TOME (AUS)
Five-year-old bay gelding

Country: Hong Kong
Trainer: John Moore
Probable jockey: Hugh Bowman
Owner: Matthew Wong Leung-pak
Breeding: Dylan Thomas x Flame Of Sydney (Encosta De Lago)
Biggest Win: Group Three National Day Cup (1,000m), Sha Tin, 1 October 2015
Last 10 Starts: 00x33165x163
International Rating: 114

A horse very familiar to Australians, Not Listenin'tome is a one-time boom horse who has taken longer to reach the top than many expected. He was a Group One runner-up to Zoustar at his fourth Australian start, won a Group Three by four lengths at start five and was second in the Canterbury Stakes, a Group One against the older horses at weight-for-age at his sixth start. After that, though, he went off the boil, taking a long time to overcome a throat infection and struggling during the Melbourne spring last year. Given he was owned by John Moore in Australia, though, he was always seen as a likely Hong Kong type, although whether it would be with Moore as owner or trainer, few knew. Finally, he arrived in Hong Kong to join Moore's stable earlier this year, placing in a Group Three at his first run before winning the Group Three Sha Tin Vase at start three in May. This season, he again began strongly, taking out the National Day Cup in scintillating fashion down the straight before two passable efforts in the Premier Bowl and Jockey Club Sprint. It is hard to tell how good he is, and he gives the impression that he has one monster run in him. Still, it might be better to see how his Hong Kong career develops over the next 12 months. 


SAKURA GOSPEL (JPN)
Seven-year-old bay or brown gelding

Country: Japan
Trainer: Tomohito Ozeki
Probable jockey: Zac Purton
Owner: Sakura Commers
Breeding: Sakura President x Sakura Blues (Cure The Blues)
Biggest Win: Group Two Keio Hai Spring Cup (1,400m), Tokyo, 16 May 2015
Last 10 Starts: 0x00x82x1810x2
International Rating: 114

A vastly improved galloper who seems to fluctuate in and out of form cycles. A promising three-year-old, he first stepped onto the big stage at four, finishing ninth to Curren Chan in the 2012 Takamatsunomiya Kinen. Towards the end of that year, he found a hot patch, winning three in a row, finishing fourth in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen and fifth in the Yasuda Kinen, both behind dual Hong Kong Sprint winner Lord Kanaloa. After that, though, he seemed to drop off a cliff, only finding form again earlier this year - including a Group Two win over 1,400m, a distance that seems his best trip. His last start second to Straight Girl, albeit after a cosy trip, was a career best effort, but can he find another career best to figure here? A big positive for him is the booking of Zac Purton, last year's winning rider who is as good a tactical rider as there is in Hong Kong. Will it be enough to get him over the line?


STRATHMORE (AUS)
Four-year-old bay gelding

Country: Hong Kong
Trainer: Tony Millard
Probable jockey: Ryan Moore
Owner: Mr & Mrs Iain Bruce
Breeding: Fastnet Rock x Our Egyptian Raine (Desert Sun)
Biggest Win: Cha Kwo Ling Handicap (1,200m), Happy Valley, 1 November 2015
Last 10 Starts: 13x3122x1216
International Rating: 109

The lowest rated horse in the field, Strathmore is the only one of the seven local runners who has solely raced in Hong Kong. He is out of top racemare Our Egyptian Raine, a Group One winner in New Zealand who became notable for failing to add an Australian Group One to her name. In fact, she had seven seconds and two thirds from 19 appearances in Group One races in Australia. Strathmore began his career with a win in a grffin race in May last year as a two-year-old, and although it has been a weak crop - second and third are both in Class Five now, while fourth retired in Class Five - he always looked to have the makings of a good horse. After disappointing on his return, he made his way through the grades, taking his rating from 63 to 98 with four wins at 1,000m and 1,200m. His win on opening day was terrific, while a victory two back at Happy Valley was solid rather than spectacular. Last start, he proved himself deserved of a spot in this field with an unlucky sixth in the Jockey Club Sprint, when he should have finished closer. Whether this is all too soon is a major query, but he is a sprinter who looks set to represent Hong Kong for years to come. 


STRAIGHT GIRL (JPN)
Six-year-old bay mare

Country: Japan
Trainer: Hideaki Fujiwara
Probable jockey: Keita Tosaki
Owner: Hirosaki Toshihiro HD Co Ltd
Breeding: Fuji Kiseki x Never Period (Taiki Shuttle)
Biggest Win: Group One Sprinters Stakes (1,200m), Nakayama, 4 October 2015
Last 10 Starts: 1330x23x01x41
International Rating: 112

Last year's third placegetter behind Aerovelocity, Straight Girl's racing career will come to an end after she runs in the Hong Kong Sprint. She has won two Group One races since her effort in last year's Sprint, an inexplicable failure in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen followed by two Group One wins in the Victoria Mile and the Sprinters Stakes, with a Group Two fourth in between. Last year, she came into the Hong Kong Sprint off placings in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, Victoria Mile and Sprinters Stakes, so on paper she appears to be in better form this time around. Among the beaten rivals in the Victoria Mile were Hong Kong Cup contender Nuovo Record and Sunday's Japan Cup winner Shonan Pandora, but it was her last start win over rivals Sakura Gospel and Mikki Isle was particularly eye-catching - she sat midfield, sprinted strongly at the top of the straight and won fairly cosily at the finish. It is hard to see Sakura Gospel, Mikki Isle or Rich Tapestry turning around the form on that effort, all being equal - so how will she measure up against her other rivals? 

Stay tuned to the South China Morning Post for more guides to the Longines Hong Kong International Races