Never has the Hong Kong International Races been more deserving of its global billing, with a total of eight countries across four different continents being represented with runners at Sha Tin on Sunday.
They are led in numbers by an unprecedented Japanese crew of 10, while a talented trio from Australia and a pair of rapid sprinters from the US add an extra edge to some already high-class contests.
However, none have quite had as much success as the Europeans, who rarely have gone through the meeting without at least one winner, and once again trainers from the continent have embraced the four feature races with at least one runner in each this year.
The Hong Kong Vase has been a particularly successful race, Dominant’s victory over The Fugue in 2013 for John Moore being the only non-European winner since 2001, though Flintshire’s success 12 months ago quickly put the record straight.
Andre Fabre’s charge aims to retain his title in favour of a tilt at the Japan Cup and despite winning just once in the meantime, has been his usual highly consistent self, coming here off the back of once again finishing runner-up in the Arc.
His record of five wins from 18 starts somewhat gives him the reputation as a bridesmaid, though time after time he gives his absolute best against the best, highlighted by the fact he recently became owner Khalid Abdullah’s highest ever earner and he should take all the beating once again.
That is in spite of his opposition being notably stronger this time around, Highland Reel being one of many to consider. A model of consistency and already well accustomed to travelling, with France, North America and Australia already stamped on his passport, he bids to be trainer Aidan O’Brien’s first ever winner at the international meeting.
Sir Michael Stoute, on the other hand, has had notable previous success here, including in this race in 2000 with Daliapour and he returns with Cannock Chase. The horse has improved for the recent step up to a mile and a half (2,400m), comes off a career-best effort when landing the Canadian International at Woodbine and has made a really good impression since arriving.
Unexposed three-year-olds Ming Dynasty and Dariyan, representing France, are certainly not easy to write off - for all, this is seen as a bit of a learning curve for both, the impression being we won’t see them at their best until next year.
The pair do have links with previous winners of the race, though, the former representing trainer Mikel Delzangles who landed the prize with Dunaden in 2011, while the latter bids to emulate her dam Daryakana, who won this in 2009.
A length back in fifth that day was the old boy Cirrus Des Aigles, this being his sixth start at the meeting, and he’s acquitted himself with real credit on each occasion. However, his recent efforts after returning from an injury suggest his best days are behind him.
Another who has become a Hong Kong regular is Sole Power, Europe’s only representative in the Sprint this year and he attempts to go one better than when second to Japan’s Lord Kanaloa back in 2013. It’s been another highly productive season for Eddie Lynam’s star, who finally added a win at the Dubai carnival to an illustrious resume, the Al Quoz Sprint being his fifth career Group One. Later in the season, new pilot Chris Hayes made a perfect start to their partnership at the Curragh in September.
The raiders likely have their work cut out against Able Friend in the Hong Kong Mile, though it’s not stopped them from trying, with Esoterique and Toormore both coming over for the first time after highly productive campaigns this year at the highest level at home and abroad. Both also finished ahead of Able Friend in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot, though it would be a surprise if either could confirm that form on his own patch, while this comes at the end of what has been a long season for both.
Mondialiste, meanwhile, has done nothing but progress since joining David O’Meara after being bought last year. He is another who has worked well this week, with recent exploits in North America certainly leaving a mark, and a continuation of that upward curve could easily see him involved. Red Dubawi completes the quartet, Germany’s sole representative this year, but the huge leap from winning a Group One in Italy last time looks to be one too far.
That cannot be said of leading Hong Kong Cup hope Free Eagle, who bids to go out with a bang before being retired to stud. After returning to win the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, he was saved for an autumn campaign, running with real credit behind Golden Horn in the Irish Champion Stakes and the Arc. The drop back to a mile and a quarter (2,000m) looks to be ideal, fast ground is key to him and he has done nothing but impress since arriving.
Elsewhere, French raiders Gailo Chop and Free Port Lux attempt to add some `Va Va Voom` to the HK$25 million feature. Though both come off the back of victories, in the Mackinnon Stakes in Australia and the Prix Daniel Wildenstein at Longchamp on Arc weekend respectively, career-best efforts appear necessary if either is to play a hand in a race most fitting of such a valuable and lucrative prize.
Calum Madell is a race reporter for Timeform and a member of the Jockey Club's social media team for the Hong Kong International Races