Six years ago, unheralded Cirrus Des Aigles first came to attention on the world stage with an unlucky fifth to the Aga Khan’s filly Daryakana in the 2009 Hong Kong Vase.
'A real treat': Depth in Hong Kong International Races never stronger than in 2015
This year, at what will be his seventh trip to Hong Kong, Corine Barande-Barbe’s warhorse tackles the HK$16.5 million Longines Hong Kong Vase again for just the second time – but in a quirky twist of fate, standing between the nine-year-old and an overdue Sha Tin success is Daryakana’s son, Group Two-winning three-year-old Dariyan.
The Cirrus Des Aigles-Dariyan battle is just one subplot in what shapes as one of the stronger Vases in recent years. Eleven of the 14 runners have won at the highest level, and this year’s Vase provides a true test of mile and a half form from all corners of the globe.
The field is headed up by last year’s winner Flintshire, who enters in similar form after finishing second again in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at his last start, this time to Golden Horn. He has also added an American feature since, while placing in Group Ones in Dubai and the United Kingdom, but he will need to take a significant step forward to claim this year’s Vase, with more than just Willie Cazals and Khaya to overcome this time around.
Mikel Delzangles brings Group Two winner Ming Dynasty as he tries to add to his 2011 success with Dunaden, while 2012 winner Ed Dunlop is set to be represented by Ascot Gold Cup winner Trip To Paris. However, the participation of Trip To Paris is dependent on a solid showing in this weekend’s Japan Cup, with Grand Prix de Paris winner Erupt and German Group One victor Ito also running in Tokyo before a Vase start is set in stone.
Chris Waller-trained Preferment will be the first Australian-prepared galloper to run in the Vase since Douro Valley in 2008 and a first Hong Kong runner for the man with the Midas touch who has taken Australian racing by storm. It will be just his second international runner after Brazen Beau was just touched off at Royal Ascot, and given Waller’s current form – he prepared 10 Group One winners during the Australian spring, including Cox Plate winner Winx – it would be take a brave man to overlook Preferment.
He is joined by another Cox Plate runner, third-placed Highland Reel, with Aidan O’Brien’s three-year-old set to add another stamp in his passport after running in five different countries at his last five starts. It is O’Brien’s first HKIR runner in five years, and his first in Hong Kong at all since the 2012 QE II Cup, but while the Coolmore maestro has an abysmal record at Sha Tin, Highland Reel looks the right type to give him a maiden victory.
However, for Coolmore’s retained jockey Ryan Moore, it is likely to mean forgoing the ride on another of his regular mounts, with Canadian International winner Cannock Chase also down to run.
The strong international contingent is completed by German filly Lovelyn, a Group One winner in Italy at her last start.
While it is easy to forget the local contingent in the Vase, with only two victories in 21 runnings, the trio representing Hong Kong are no slouches.
Two of the three are Group One winners over 2,400m, with 2013 Vase winner Dominant joined by last season’s Champions & Chater Cup winner Helene Super Star, while the third of the trio, Helene Happy Star, won the only other 2,400m Group race on the Hong Kong programme, the Group Three Queen Mother Memorial Cup in May.