Master Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien has pulled a rabbit out of the hat by bringing his world-beating filly Magical to next month’s Group One Hong Kong Cup (2,000m) to take on the pride of Japan in Almond Eye.
Reports had suggested that O’Brien’s star filly was set for retirement after missing the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita earlier this month with an elevated temperature but instead she will make the trip to Hong Kong.
The show-stopping Cup is set to be the highlight of the day with O’Brien also saddling up Group One winner Magic Wand after a successful spring carnival in Australia.
After the news Almond Eye’s connections had opted to bypass Sunday’s Japan Cup (2,400m) in favour of the shorter Hong Kong Cup had many running for the hills, O’Brien responded in the strongest possible way.
Often considered to have lived her career in the shadows of star mare Enable, Magical produced her best effort last start, winning the Group One Champion Stakes (2,000m) at Ascot.
Remarkably, Magical only missed a placing once this season – in a stacked Group One Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (2,400m) – which saw her run a respectable fifth behind Waldgeist.
Next month’s Hong Kong Cup is set to be Magical’s last race start, with Coolmore having already announced plans for her to be covered by their prized sire No Nay Never.
It adds even more spice to her showdown with Almond Eye, the horse who has captured the imagination of a nation.
The four-year-old has won eight of her 10 starts (placing in the other two) with six Group One victories to her credit.
The filly won the Dubai Turf in March but was beaten by Indy Champ in the Yasuda Kinen before bouncing back with a peerless performance in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) last month.
Along with Almond Eye, Japan will be represented by the Sha Tin 2,000m track record holder Win Bright.
The Japanese raider shocked fans in last season’s Group One QE II Cup when he upset the likes of Exultant and Lys Gracieux as a $48 outsider.
While he has struggled in Japan since his stunning Sha Tin performance, he will be a force to be reckoned with.
The last of the internationals is the Alain de Royer-Dupré-trained Edisa.
The French-trained filly will carry just 119 pounds as a three-year-old and comes off an impressive season, having three wins and three seconds from her past six starts.
The strong international presence creates a showdown with rising Hong Kong star Rise High.
After being the first horse to defeat Beauty Generation in 18 months, Group One success looked imminent for the Caspar Fownes-trained galloper, but he will now be forced to do it the hard way after opting to tackle the Cup instead of the Vase.
The race will also feature last season’s Hong Kong Derby winner Furore with trainer Frankie Lor Fu-chuen deciding to run at 2,000m after a strong showing in last Sunday’s Group Two Jockey Club Cup.
Last year’s winner Glorious Forever will again return alongside the likes of Time Warp, Dark Dream and Eagle Way, but they will need to improve on their current form to be competitive.