The world’s richest 2,000m event on turf at Sha Tin in December will see a lonely John Moore-trained Werther attempting to stave off the foreign might of some of the world’s great owners and trainers in the HK$25 million Longines Hong Kong Cup.
Since the race was elevated to international Group One status in 1999, when great French globetrotter Jim And Tonic took the prize, Hong Kong has trailed the rest of the world by six wins to 12 in the Cup. With nine of the 13 invitees coming from overseas, the odds are with the visitors again in 2017.
Four of those six wins came in succession from 2011 to 2014 with the wins by California Memory, twice, Akeed Mofeed and Designs On Rome, before the Japanese have dominated the past two runnings with A Shin Hikari and Maurice and they will have a strong hand again this time.
The QE II Cup winner last April under a brilliant tactical Joao Moreira ride, Neorealism will be joined by compatriots Staphanos – making his fourth trip to Hong Kong and with a 2015 QE II Cup second and third in this race last year to show for it – and Smart Layer, fifth in last year’s Vase and a recent Group Two winner in the Kyoto Daishoten at home.
But the Japanese will also meet some stern opposition, with Sir Michael Stoute-trained Poet’s Word the runner-up last month in the Champion Stakes at Ascot behind the world’s third highest-rated horse Cracksman, albeit at a respectful distance.
In his turn, Aidan O’Brien sends out Deauville, who beat Poet’s Word in a Group Three earlier this year at Chester and carries the same 119-point rating as his rival that day along with Neorealism and Werther into the Sha Tin showpiece.
O’Brien’s Cup pair is completed by War Decree, a three-year-old in a year when that age group has performed well against their elders, and whose soft Group Three win at Dundalk in September was accompanied by a comment from his trainer that the colt loves fast ground. That is something he is sure to get at Sha Tin.
Snow Fairy, Pride and Alexander Goldrun have provided plenty of evidence in past winners that fillies and mares invariably race well in the Cup and Andrew Balding, a past Vase winner with Phoenix Reach, brings Blond Me. She is a last start winner in the Group One E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine last month.
Completing the overseas contingent are Robin Of Navan, who downed Garlingari in a Group Three at Chantilly in June, and Garlingari himself, who is starting to look a worthwhile replacement for Corine Barande-Barbe’s former iron horse, Cirrus Des Aigles.
In 2016, Garlingari was having his 12th start of the year when seventh in the Vase but didn’t kick off his campaign until the middle of 2017 and will be relatively fresh at only start number seven. It seems to agree with him, too, as he will come with back-to-back wins in a Group Three at Maisons-Lafite and the Group Two Prix Dollar on Arc weekend in Paris.
Werther’s timely return to form on Sunday in the Jockey Club Cup ensures that he will at least hold his own and, while he is the local stand-out, he will be accompanied by Secret Weapon, who chased home Maurice last year, and Time Warp and Nassa, who filled the minor placings on Sunday behind Werther.