Three-year-old males have an atrocious record in the Longines Hong Kong Vase, but six years after his dam took out the HK$16.5 million feature, Dariyan can add his name to the honour roll in the longest of the international day features today.
Dariyan is Gallic racing royalty personified – ridden by champion jockey Christophe Soumillon, trained by the legendary Alain de Royer-Dupre, owned by the Aga Khan, from one of the country’s finest female families.
And while all eyes are on another French visitor, last year’s winner Flintshire (Vincent Cheminaud), it is Dariyan who can fly the tricolour flag proudly to give the nation its 11th win in the race.
It was only in 2009 that Dariyan’s dam Daryakana became the second three-year-old filly to win the Vase for the same owner and trainer, and her first foal has a similar enough profile.
Dariyan is a lightly raced veteran of only six starts and was thrown into the deep end quickly – after two wins from three starts, he was sent out favourite in a Group Three to finish fourth to Erupt. He atoned in the Prix Eugene Adam at Maisons-Laffitte, showing a nifty turn of foot to easily overcome War Dispatch and Toruk – ironically, both now in training at Sha Tin.
His last start came in August when he finished second to Prix Du Jockey Club winner and Arc third New Bay on heavy ground at Deauville, before a setback forced him out of a planned Breeders’ Cup campaign.
However, he is reportedly over the hiccup and De Royer-Dupre is not the type to send a horse out for a race if he doesn’t feel he can handle it, so that in itself is a lead.
A major positive is his liking for firm ground, an advantage he has over France’s other three-year-old Ming Dynasty, and he looks to still have massive improvement ahead.
So while Dariyan appears to be six months away and a potential Arc candidate in 2016, he can begin the long road to the first weekend in October with victory at Sha Tin, in the process becoming the first three-year-old colt to win the race.
Dariyan’s main danger is another three-year-old colt, but one at the opposite end of the spectrum – Aidan O’Brien-trained Highland Reel (Ryan Moore).
The Coolmore galloper has already made his mark criss-crossing the globe in the latter part of this year, frequent trips across the Irish Sea transforming into sorties to the United States, Australia and now Hong Kong.
By now, he feels fairly well exposed, but those experiences abroad should give him every chance to perform to his peak here.
He has tactical speed, which he employed to great effect in the Secretariat Stakes in Chicago when he trounced his rivals, while he has shown that he stays a mile and a half after his gritty Gordon Stakes win at Goodwood.
Last start, there was no matching Chris Waller’s super filly Winx in the Cox Plate, but she was gifted inside runs while Moore kept Highland Reel away from the fence throughout. In the end, the margin may have been inflated, though the result was never changing.
O’Brien’s record in Hong Kong is woeful, but he is one of the world’s masters for a reason and a maiden victory in the Far East will come one day – it’s a matter of if, not when.
Of course, Flintshire must have claims on both his last visit to Sha Tin and his performances in some of the world’s best mile-and-a-half contests this season.
However, he meets a stronger field this year – there’s more to beat than the now-retired Willie Cazals and the returning Khaya. Sure, his form is arguably stronger too – his Sword Dancer win at Saratoga was top-notch, although against weak American turf stayers, and his Arc placing was typical for him. But at what is likely to be a short price, he looks a favourite worth opposing.
While the locals are often overlooked in this race, with just two wins from 21 runnings, Helene Happy Star (Joao Moreira) looks the leading light of a somewhat average home brigade.
Many pundits were taken by the run of 2013 Vase winner Dominant in the Jockey Club Cup, ignoring an equally meritorius performance from his stablemate.
That day, Helene Happy Star was booted forward from an awkward gate before Moreira restrained, and while the notoriously fierce four-year-old handled it better than in the past, he still tended to get the mouth open slightly. He was a little dour in the closing stages, but whacked away well enough to give him a pass mark.
The step up in trip suits, and he is liable for more improvement than Dominant, who had an extra run and years of experience under his belt.
But crucial to his chances are the tactics employed, given his free-going demeanour. Today, with a steady gallop expected, conservative tactics and cover may provide him with the best opportunity to finish in the frame.