The Longines Hong Kong International Races (HKIR) target of Japanese superstar Maurice is likely to be decided by his performance in Sunday’s Grade One Tenno Sho (Autumn) at Tokyo.
Maurice, who was a dominant winner of the Hong Kong Mile last year, has been entered for both the 1,600m event and the Hong Kong Cup, over 2,000m with trainer Noriyuki Hori leaning towards tackling the latter.
The biggest concern is his ability to handle the extra distance, but that query could be answered here.
Maurice has only run over 2,000m once before, finishing second in the Grade Two Sapporo Kinen in August.
He gets the services of world-class jockey Ryan Moore for his second crack at it and he’ll want to be winning, or going very close, to take on the best at Sha Tin in the Hong Kong Cup rather than trying to go back-to-back in the Hong Kong Mile.
The stable is confident the five-year-old, who also won the Group One Champions Mile at Sha Tin in May, will acquit himself well.
“I don’t think the distance is a problem,” assistant trainer Atsunori Hashimoto said.
“It’s just a question of measuring up to the strong opposition over this trip, whereas we know he’s done it very well over a mile.”
Maurice is going to be tested fully by his rivals in Sunday’s contest, with fellow globetrotter A Shin Hikari leading the way.
There are no concerns over his ability to handle the trip, the son of Deep Impact having won the Hong Kong Cup and Prix D’Ispahan in France, both at Group One level, within the past 12 months.
A Shin Hikari’s biggest issue is bouncing back after failing in Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot.
His record of 10 wins from 13 starts is exceptional, but one of the races he missed out on was last year’s renewal of the Tenno Sho (Autumn).
“In last year’s race he couldn’t find his rhythm,” trainer Masanori Sakaguchi said.
“He’s a speed horse and running at his natural pace is what he needs. He’s been flying in his work and seems to have more muscle now as a five-year-old. We need to just take care when getting him onto the track, that’s a slight concern.”
A Shin Hikari will push forward from the inside barrier, but jockey Yutaka Take isn’t keen to lead.
“I’d like to get a good early position and have a ground saving run on him,” he said.
“It’s a difficult race to lead all the way in. It’s his last chance to win a Grade One in Japan, but I hope what he’s achieved overseas can be found again here to show the Japanese fans what a good horse he is.”
Of the 15 runners, nine of them have been nominated for the HKIR and this race will have a big bearing on who makes the trip.
In the early market, A Shin Hikari was rated a $3.60 favourite, just ahead of Maurice ($5.20) and Rouge Buck ($5.50).
The daughter of Manhattan Cafe, Rouge Buck has strung together back-to-back wins at Tokyo over 1800m. She claimed the Grade Three Epsom Cup in June and followed that taking out the Grade Two Mainichi Okan earlier this month.
Real Steel is the other international Group One winner in the race, having prevailed in the Dubai Turf over 2,410m in March.
The Tenno Sho (Autumn) will be simulcast through the Jockey Club, with the race set to get underway at 2.40pm.