Maybe it appeared an evenly matched local group led by Able Friend dodged a bullet when Maurice opted out of the $23 million Group One Hong Kong Mile to chase the Cup, but the race still contains the only two horses to beat the Japanese champion in more than two-and-a-half years.
Tsuyoshi Tanaka’s Logotype, who beat Maurice in this year’s Group One Yasuda Kinen, and the Noriyuki Hori-trained Neorealism, who then upset his stablemate in the Group Two Sapporo Kinen, join Satono Aladdin in a three-handed Japanese assault on the world’s richest mile.
While the unexpected wins by Logotype and Neorealism may have had as much to do with conditions on the day than class, and even though none of the Japanese trio have the same awe-inspiring presence as Maurice, they still warrant respect against an unusually vulnerable home side.
Last year’s win by Maurice aside, history says this is the hardest of the four international day features to win for visitors, with 10 of the last 12 going to Hong Kong-trained horses – stretching back to another Japanese win by Hat Trick in 2005.
Able Friend will be looking to repeat his dominant success of 2014 and avenge an agonising third to Maurice 12 months ago.
The 2015 Mile will be remembered by many for Able Friend’s failure due to injury as it will be Maurice’s success, however unfair that is, and John Moore’s horse has only run once since when fourth in last weekend’s Group Two Jockey Club Sprint.
How the big gelding responds second-up after nearly 12 months on the sidelines, much of it spent convalescing in Australia, and after an interrupted recent preparation, places a huge question mark over the now seven-year-old.
Able Friend is by far the highest-rated of 10 locals and one of three runners for John Moore as he looks for a third win in the race for the same owner, Cornel Li Fook-kwan.
The only non-Japanese foreign raider, and looking to turnaround the terrible record of Europeans in the race, is Aidan O’Brien’s Cougar Mountain, a five-year-old placed once in 10 tries at Group One level.
Granted, that was a third in Solow’s Group One Queen Anne Stakes – a race most notable to local fans for Able Friend’s famous Royal Ascot flop.