Hong Kong’s richest race has been thrown wide open with a host of international raiders set to challenge local stars Time Warp and Werther for the Longines Hong Kong Cup crown.
Consistent Japanese performers Sungrazer, Deirdre and Staphanos will make the trip to Sha Tin while legendary Irish trainer Dermot Weld will bring his up-and-coming four-year-old Eziyra from Europe, fresh off a Breeders Cup tilt in America.
It is local trainer Tony Millard, however, who brings the most intriguing runner to the race, with the South African committing his dual Group One winner Northern Superstar, despite being unraced in Hong Kong.
The six-time South African winner came to Millard’s stable earlier this year and will step out for the first time at Sha Tin on Sunday in the Class One Chevalier Cup (1,600m) in preparation for the Cup on December 9.
Both of Northern Superstar’s Group One victories have come over the Cup distance of 2,000m, taking out both the Cape Derby as a three-year-old last year and The Daily News 2,000 five months later.
With last Sunday’s Jockey Club Cup (2,000m) winner Eagle Way and runner-up Exultant both heading to the 2,400m Vase instead, John Moore’s Werther will carry the hopes of the locals, in search of Cup redemption after finishing second last year.
Australian jockey Hugh Bowman is expected to take the ride on the dual Group One winner, winning five times on the horse previously.
Full brothers Time Warp and Glorious Forever will again go head-to-head after being caught in an early speed battle on Sunday which all but ruined their chances, opening up the race for back-markers.
Reigning champion Time Warp’s trainer Tony Cruz was livid with the tactics of Glorious Forever on the weekend, labelling it a “stupid race” which was set up to ensure his horse did not win.
After finishing 22 lengths last on Sunday as a result of the frantic speed, Time Warp will be forced to pass a barrier trial to prove he is competitive before taking his place in the field.
Champion jockey Zac Purton looks set to retain the ride despite the last start disappointment.
Recent history says local Hong Kong horses have the advantage in the HK$28 million feature, winning five of the last seven instalments of the race, ending more than two decades of international dominance.
Early pre-post favourite Blair House will not make the trip to Hong Kong after a disappointing Australian campaign recently with trainer Charlie Appleby opting to send him to Dubai for a spell.
While most winners of the race in the last decade have come out of the Group Two Jockey Club Cup (2,000m), Japanese runners Sungrazer and Staphanos will be hard to beat with the Group One Tenno Sho (Autumn) also producing two of the last three winners.
The Hidekazu Asami-trained Sungrazer came second in this year’s renewal, running on strongly from the rear of the field for jockey Joao Moreira.
Assistant trainer Keiichi Asami said Sungrazer did not have the disposition of a middle distance horse earlier in his career but has learned to settle down, giving him the ability to run on from the back of fields.
“When he was younger he had a difficult temperament but now that he’s a bit older he has settled down considerably and in his last race he was able to wait patiently and respond very well when urged on,” he said.
Hong Kong horses Seasons Bloom and Gold Mount round out the 11-horse field.