It was a case of “pick your poison” for connections of Nuovo Record when they chose to take on Highland Reel rather than the might of Maurice but they remain comfortable with the decision heading into Sunday’s Group One Longines Hong Kong Vase.

Trainer Makoto Saito surprised some when he opted to run his mare in the HK$16.5 million Vase against Highland Reel rather than contest the HK$25 million Hong Kong Cup – a race not only worth considerably more money, but one that Nuovo Record ran second in last year.

“Of course, Highland Reel will be favourite and he is a very good horse, he won last year and it is a challenge,” said racing manager Hiroshi Ando. “But then there is Maurice in the Cup.”

The Vase lacks the overall depth of the Cup and the extra distance the 2,400m contest offers might be to Nuovo Record’s liking as well, Ando added.

“She ran huge over 2,000m last year but maybe now she is a year older she will want more ground, and don’t forget, she is also an Oaks winner – so she can handle the distance,” he said.

When Nuovo Record was a disappointing 11th of 13 in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf over 2,000m just over one month ago it appeared the five-year-old chestnut might not come back to Sha Tin at all, much less have her owners tossing up which race to enter.

“We couldn’t really find a reason why she ran so badly at Santa Anita, we expected her to run better and we expected she would hit the board, but she didn’t seem to like the track,” Ando said. “We were down that day, but when she came back to the barn and we waited a few days, she hadn’t used any energy.”

At that stage, some rumours even circulated suggesting owner simply hoping for some free air tickets back to Asia for the apparently out of form stayer. They were rumours dismissed as scuttlebutt by Ando, but the fact the innuendo was even floating around was a sign of just how poorly the chestnut ran.

Classy Highland Reel the standout as he tries to defend his Hong Kong Vase title

After Nuovo Record’s place in the Vase field was confirmed, Saito had another surprise up his sleeve though, a trip to Del Mar and a Grade Three win in the Red Carpet Handicap over 2,200m.

“We moved to Del Mar and she did really well, we wanted to race her one more time in America, give her that chance, and either go home or come here to Hong Kong. It worked out very well,” Ando said.

Owner Reiko Hara has no plans to retire the daughter of Heart’s Cry and a third trip to Sha Tin in December 2017 is already pencilled in for a horse described as a “great traveller” by Ando.

“She isn’t normal, she is a super horse and is so mentally strong – especially for a filly, I’ve never seen anything like her,” he said. “She only lost four kilos on the way here, and it’s a long flight, so she travelled very well. She has settled in nicely and I think she will run well.”