It would be fitting if Highland Reel finished his storied career on a high in the Hong Kong Vase but the popular globetrotter faces a quality field that includes his full brother and an X-factor in the form of a star Japanese three-year-old.
Coolmore’s six-time Group One winner is set to run his 27th and final race in an event he won in 2015 as a three-year-old and was a narrow second last year.
Aside from the two Japanese-trained runners in the race, Highland Reel’s competition comes from close to home, not just in the form of eight other European-trained runners, but from stablemate and full brother Idaho.
Idaho didn’t bring his best form across the Atlantic when sent on an North American sojourn this year but before that he was third behind superstar Enable at Ascot and has won at Group Two level.
Satono Crown denied Highland Reel a second Vase and even though last year’s winner has skipped the rematch in favour of domestic targets, Japan has still sent two serious contenders.
Group One Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger) winner Kiseki adds an element of intrigue, looking like a horse on the improve and arriving after a stellar season that included three wins and a second to Derby hero Rey de Oro.
It is rare for a Group One-winning three-year-old to make the year-ending trip from Japan with 2006 Kikuka Sho winner Song of Wind the last to try, finishing fourth in the Vase, while a year earlier Six Sense was second at Sha Tin after finishing fourth at home.
It was Joao Moreira who orchestrated the upset on Satono Crown and he again links with Japan as seasoned stayer Tosen Basil makes his first trip abroad.
Tosen Basil hasn’t won for more than a year but was an encouraging last start second at Group Two level and connections have elected to skip Sunday’s Japan Cup to save the five-year-old for the Vase.
Master trainer Andre Fabre had originally flagged a visit with Cloth Of Stars but Group One-winning stablemate Talismanic is an able replacement.
Max Dynamite looms as a major player after placing in the Melbourne Cup and will be joined on the same flight from Australia by seventh-placed Tiberian.
Dominant’s 2013 upset has been the only local success in the Vase since 1998, but this year’s home representation of three horses, led by Gold Mount, is still underwhelming.