When the eyes of the racing world focus in on the Longines Hong Kong International Races next month, all the attention will be on local hero Beauty Generation as he looks to affirm his position as one of the best horses on the planet.
The Jockey Club on Wednesday released the list of 50 horses set to compete at Sha Tin on December 9 and John Moore’s superstar – a three-time Group One winner and Hong Kong’s reigning Horse of the Year – is clearly the main attraction for this year’s HK$93 million event.
Beauty Generation boasts an international rating of 126 – he is the highest-rated turf miler in the world – four points clear of Andre Fabre’s French raider Waldgeist, a two-time Group One winner who will take on cult hero Pakistan Star in the Hong Kong Vase.
Looking at the breakdown by the numbers, it is an even battle between the locals and the visitors (from six different countries) who have 25 representatives each – with 23 of the 50 runners winners at Group One level.
Japan has had plenty of recent success at HKIR – think Maurice, Lord Kanaloa, A Shin Hikari and Satono Crown – and it will have nine horses flying its white and red flag, headlined by Sungrazer in the Cup, Lys Gracieux in the Vase and Fine Needle in the Sprint, while Persian Knight and Mozu Ascot line up in the Mile.
The veteran Staphanos also deserves a shout out, the seven-year-old making his fifth trip to Hong Kong and this is the fourth time he will compete in the Cup, having finished third and fourth in the past two renewals
There are eight acceptances from Britain, but they look an even bunch on paper, with perhaps their best hopes coming in the Vase where Salouen, Mirage Dancer, Red Verdon and Prince Of Arran will line up.
The famous O’Brien clan from Ireland will have three runners – two for legendary trainer Aidan (Capri and Rostropovich) and one for son Joseph (Irish Derby winner Latrobe) – while compatriot Dermot Weld has Eziyra in the Cup.
Fabre provides both French hopes with Inns Of Court joining Waldgeist, while Singapore’s best sprinter Lim’s Cruiser will have the support of the Lion City.
The biggest surprise is seeing an Australian-trained horse making the trip given the quarantine restrictions currently in place.
But having to spend six months in a third country before returning to Australia clearly is not an issue for Chris Waller’s Comin’ Through, who won the Group One Doomben Cup in May and finished second in the Doncaster Mile before that.
The five-year-old gelding is owned by New Zealander Sir Owen Glenn, so he will have plenty of other options outside Australia if he wants to race on in the first half of next year.
On the flip side, perhaps the only real disappointment from a Jockey Club perspective is the overall numbers.
There are just 11 runners set to compete in the Cup – the smallest field since 10 went around in 2011 – and only 12 in the Sprint, which is the fewest since 2012, while they are one short of capacity in the Mile, which hasn’t happened since just 10 faced the starter in 2014.
Interestingly enough, the Vase has a maximum of 14 runners – that has happened just three times in the previous 14 years.
On paper, it looks like the locals hold the aces in the Sprint and the Mile, the Cup could go either way, while the Vase has historically been the domain of the internationals.
“Once again, we are delighted that this year’s selected runners are of proven world-class ability,” Jockey Club executive director of racing Andrew Harding said.
“We expect to see excellence at this event and with strong contenders like Hong Kong’s own incredible Beauty Generation, Japan’s Fine Needle, and European stars including Waldgeist and Latrobe, we can expect another thrilling afternoon of sport on December 9.”
But there is no doubt who the banner horse is – this is the moment for Beauty Generation to put his name up in lights on a global stage and cement his legacy as a champion of the modern era.