Four foreign runners are set to meet the cream of the local talent in the HK$20 million Audemars Piguet QE II Cup at Sha Tin on April 26, including a rematch of the Hong Kong Cup finish and the first Niarchos family runner in the city's history.
In an increasingly competitive landscape on the racing calendar, visitors were clearly hard to marshal so hard on the heels of The Championships in Sydney and after Mike de Kock's Dubai-based team had been decimated with injury this year.
"But we have four nice overseas horses coming and one of the things that's great about the QE II Cup is that, over the past years, honours have been quite even between the Hong Kong horses and the visitors and so that makes for a great race," said Jockey Club executive director of racing, Bill Nader, as the field was announced.
The last two winners Designs On Rome and Military Attack will lead the nine-strong home team against Japan's Staphanos, David Hayes-trained Criterion, evergreen Red Cadeaux and Pascal Bary-trained Smoking Sun.
If he makes it to the post, Smoking Sun will be the first horse to race in Hong Kong under the famous striped colours of the Niarchos family.
They are one of the world's best-known owner-breeders, and the Jockey Club will be hoping for a third time lucky result.
In 2002, the Niarchos-owned Breeders' Cup Mile winner, Domedriver, arrived for the Hong Kong Mile, but had to be pulled out of the race five days beforehand with a foot abscess.
Smoking Sun was invited for the QE II last year, but had to miss the trip. He did make it to Singapore's international cup though for a strong second to Dan Excel.
The six-year-old Smoking Sun opened his 2015 campaign with eighth of 10 behind Al Kazeem in a Group Two at Longchamp last Saturday, but on heavy ground he does not appreciate.
Hayes has Criterion aimed at Royal Ascot, perhaps even the Queen Anne Stakes, after he contests tomorrow's Queen Elizabeth Stakes in Sydney and the QE II Cup at Sha Tin.
Criterion was third to Designs On Rome in the Hong Kong Cup in December, so the tierce from that race will be rematched.
Owned by former Hong Kong Jockey Club chairman Ronald Arculli, Red Cadeaux has become synonymous with international racing events and also runs at Randwick in the Queen Elizabeth, while the least-known of the visitors is Hideaki Fujiwara-trained Staphanos.
A four-year-old with four wins from 11 starts, he is owned in the same interests as Japan Cup winner Epiphaneia, fourth in last year's QE II behind Designs On Rome, and Staphanos' best efforts include fifth in the 2014 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) and a Group Three win in October.
He ran third in a Group Two at Nakayama on March 1 to open his 2015 season.
Meanwhile, Able Friend has cemented his place as the world's top turf galloper, heading the latest World's Best Racehorse Rankings released late last night. The John Moore-trained galloper is rated 125, alongside American dirt sensation Shared Belief.
Luger aims for Mile
The headline horse conspicuous by his absence from the QE II field was BMW Hong Kong Derby winner Luger, who will take on Able Friend in the HK$14 million Champions Mile the following week instead.
Trainer John Size had delayed revealing publicly the target for what will be only Luger's fourth outing of the season while the horse's owner was travelling overseas.
"But it's all agreed now. I'd prefer him to go to the 1,600m race. He's coming back in distance and you know he'll be strong at a mile," Size said .
"The horse is fine. On the surface, the 2,000m of the Derby, effectively second-up, has done him no harm and the fact he won suggested he coped well with it. But he won the Derby against his own age group and how he would handle it against the older horses at this stage I'm not sure."