The Jockey Club trumps were thrilled when connections of Poet’s Word accepted an invitation to compete at the “turf world championships” and on Friday morning at Sha Tin, the handsome young stallion further underlined his Longines Hong Kong Cup claims.
The growing prestige of Hong Kong’s international day is measured, in part, by the recognition of the major players in the European turf world and they do not come much more major than the trainer of Poet’s Word, Sir Michael Stoute.
Stoute, 72, is one of the true pioneers of international racing, winning at Sha Tin in the early days (1994) with Soviet Line in the International Bowl, forerunner to the Hong Kong Mile.
He has been Britain’s champion trainer 10 times and has landed a host of valuable prizes beyond England’s shores, including two Japan Cups, three Breeders’ Cup races (US), one Dubai World Cup and a Hong Kong Vase (Daliapour, 2000).
So when Stoute’s horses turn up for a big event, you had better keep them on your side, especially given his incredible expertise with older horses, again illustrated this season with Ulysses winning the Eclipse Stakes and Juddmonte International.
Poet’s Word laid his cards on the table on Friday. Working solo on the turf track, he breezed over 800m in 50 seconds, and became a trackwork rarity in breaking 36 seconds for the last 600m – it is surprisingly hard to do when they are galloping near the outside rail on the circle, some 25m out from the running rail.
Once he straightened for home, Poet’s Word confirmed his Group One quality, reeling off the final 400m in 22.85 and 200m in 11.18, stretching out very nicely.
Bruce Raymond, racing manager for owner Saeed Suhail, said earlier that Poet’s Word was still fresh for the Cup, having had a midsummer break and only three starts since resuming in early August.
And what grand efforts they have been; a startling win at Goodwood in the Glorious Stakes (Group Three) on August 4, then runner-up in both the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown (behind Decorated Knight) and the British equivalent at Ascot, behind emerging champion Cracksman.
UAE businessman Suhail had a previous Hong Kong runner, Cannock Chase, who run unsuccessfully in the Vase two years ago, but he is a well-established owner in Britain, where his best win was the 2003 Epsom Derby with Kris Kin.
The other British visitor, Lightning Spear, also breezed 800m on the turf, clocking 50.25 seconds. His last 400m was 23.04 and the final 200m in 11.8.
Team Ballydoyle continued their build-up with some measured gallops on the all-weather track. Highland Reel, Roly Poly, Lancaster Bomber and Deauville already have recognised profiles but the fifth member of their team, War Decree, bears a closer look.
This son of War Front is only a three-year-old and a veteran of just seven starts. He hit the ground running last year as a juvenile with a debut maiden win at the expense of a future stakes horse, stablemate Orderofthegarter, then graduated straight to Group company.
He became a Group Two winner at only his third racecourse appearance, landing the Qatar Vintage Stakes at Goodwood in the style of an emerging top liner.
War Decree has had a light season in 2017, resuming from a break on September 29 with an effortless win in a Group Three at Dundalk, before failing to cope with the dirt track at Del Mar in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He is a quality animal and a dark horse in the Cup, where he will only be third-up from a spell.
After a mesmerising week of trackwork highlights, here’s how the four international races look:
VASE: Highland Reel, Tiberian, Kiseki, Talismanic. Respect to Max Dynamite.
SPRINT: Mr Stunning, Lucky Bubbles, Signs of Blessing, Thewizardofoz.
MILE: Beauty Only, Satono Aladdin, Seasons Bloom, Karar.
CUP: War Decree, Werther, Poet’s Word, Time Warp.