When top class Japanese three-year-old Kiseki stepped off the plane with ringworm 10 days ago many punters looking to narrow down selections in a wide-open Group One Longines Hong Kong Vase might have been tempted to simply put a line through his name.
Some more knowledge of the condition he was suffering however – ringworm isn’t worms, but rather a fungal skin condition – and the fact that Kiseki hasn’t put a foot wrong in trackwork since, mean that the stayer can keep the Vase in Japan for another year.
Kiseki will have to overcome what might be the best field ever assembled for Sha Tin’s biggest staying race including 2015 winner Highland Reel, Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Talismanic and a host of other European raiders with form that would place them among the favourites in many other years.
Last year, Satono Crown, with a little of Joao Moreira’s trademark magic, upset Highland Reel – and taking a line through that winner’s form, and that of previous Japanese visitors – Kiseki looks a highly credentialed contender.
Satono Crown had reasonable three-year-old form – but was nowhere near as accomplished as Kiseki at the same stage – and arrived off poor runs at his previous two starts.
Kiseki is lightly raced with just eight starts, has won three-from-four since July and was second to Derby winner Rey De Oro in the Group Two Kobe Shimbun Hai in September.
Then Kiseki was a two-length winner of the Group One Kikuka Sho, the Japanese St Leger, a triumph that goes someway to securing stud value for the son of Rulership and pushed the colt’s international rating up to 118.
Song of Wind was the last Kikuka Sho winner to contest the Vase, finishing fourth in 2006, while a year earlier Six Sense was second at Sha Tin after finishing fourth at home.
The form out of the Kiseki’s Kikuka Sho was again franked on Saturday when the 11th placegetter Satono Arthur was second against open age company.
The 10th and 12th placegetters from the Kikuka Sho, Satono Chronicle and Bless Journey, had already finished first and third in the Group Three Challenge Cup at Hanshin last weekend against seasoned stayers.
Kiseki’s handler Katsuhiko Sumii has won at Sha Tin before, with Hat Trick taking the 2005 Hong Kong Mile, and proved he is a master of travelling horses when he famously finished one-two in the Melbourne Cup with Delta Blues and Pop Rock.
Jockey Mirco Demuro is no stranger to big race success either and is familiar with Sha Tin, having won big races during his various stints in Hong Kong.
From a speed map perspective this looms as a fascinating contest and while the race contains five horses that could be ridden forward, none are necessarily leaders and there could be some cat-and-mouse tactics in the relatively long run to the first turn.
Demuro is likely to settle midfield or worse and hope that there is a generous tempo up front, which may not happen in the early to middle stages, but it looks a race where the pressure could be poured on from the half mile.
Expect some daring tactics by Joao Moreira on the less fancied Japanese runner, Tosen Basil, who could upset all of them.