Holding off the might of the Japanese could be the theme of this year’s Longines Hong Kong International Races and it’s no different in the HK$18.5 million Sprint as the locals try to fight off the foreign invasion.
While the past two winners Aerovelocity (2014) and Peniaphobia (2015) are the big-name Hong Kong-based runners in the 1,200m Group One, the Francis Lui Kin-wai-trained Lucky Bubbles probably represents the best local chance in a race full of depth.
There are seven individual international Group One winners, while six different nationalities are represented. It is clearly the most even of the major races, with just three ratings points separating the top 11 runners.
The Japanese contingent is led by Big Arthur, who won the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, but then had no luck in the Sprinters Stakes. That race was won by Red Falx, who is also making the trip to Hong Kong, with both trying to follow in the footsteps of Lord Kanaloa, who saluted for Japan in 2012-13.
Both are expected to be right in the finish.
The United Kingdom is yet to produce a Sprint winner, with the task this year falling to King’s Stand Stakes winner Profitable, from the Clive Cox yard and Richard Fahey’s Growl.
French star Signs Of Blessings won the Group One Prix Maurice De Gheest Stakes at Deauville in August, the contest best remembered in these parts as the one where last year’s Sprint runner-up Gold-Fun broke down.
Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint placegetter Pure Sensation is the only USA-trained horse coming across to HKIR but he can’t be discounted while Australia will be represented by the Gary Portelli-trained Rebel Dane.
The Aussies are regarded as having some of the best sprinters in the world, but they haven’t won this race since 2002 when Falvelon completed back-to-back victories.
Chautauqua, who won the Group One Chairman’s Sprint Prize in stunning fashion earlier this year, was set to be the main drawcard, but he didn’t come up this preparation and misses out.
That leaves the veteran Rebel Dane, who defied a 60-1 quote to win the Group One Manikato Stakes and book a spot in this field.
The remainder of the field is made up of Hong Kong’s top-line speedsters, including Jockey Club Sprint winner Not Listenin’tome, Amazing Kids, as well as Tony Millard’s duo of Strathmore and Super Jockey.
In theory, any of them could bob up at their best, meaning the Sprint looks to be the most open of the main HKIR races.