The outlook for the Longines Hong Kong International Races continues to brighten as overseas stars signal their intentions to make the trip.
Legendary trainer Aidan O’Brien made the call on Sunday to withdraw Cox Plate runner-up Armory from the Group One Mackinnon Stakes at Flemington next weekend to target Hong Kong.
It comes a day after Singapore trainer Michael Clements indicated the connections of dominant Queen Elizabeth II Cup winner Top Knight were interested in trying their luck at the HK$95 million meeting.
But the move from O’Brien is the first major domino to fall in the Jockey Club’s favour with Armory holding entries for both the Cup and the Vase.
“Aidan rang [on Sunday] morning and said he was thinking of bringing him home again and preparing him for Hong Kong,” O’Brien’s travelling foreman TJ Comerford said. “Aidan thinks he’s a very good horse and he wants to bring him to Hong Kong for the race there.”
Armory will leave Melbourne on Wednesday and return to Ireland, where he will be prepared for his Hong Kong raid.
And if O’Brien is taking the talented three-year-old, it is unlikely he will be the only one making the trip.
Clements also put HKIR on the agenda after Top Knight, who is nominated for the Mile and the Cup and won his second Singaporean Group One in two months.
“After the Derby, the owners became keen on the international races in Hong Kong in December,” Clements said. “Nothing has been confirmed yet.”
While those are positive developments, it appears Japanese superstar Almond Eye might elect to remain at home for the Arima Kinen after her gutsy win in the Tenno Sho (Autumn).
The beloved mare became the first Japanese horse to win eight Group One races, securing her legacy, beating Fierement and Chrono Genesis.
Trainer Sakae Kunieda wouldn’t rule out a Sha Tin adventure – she was set to race at last year’s event before being struck down with an elevated temperature – but the global climate means it is not straightforward.
“Next race? We’ll see, maybe Hong Kong,” he said. “I [need to] check Almond Eye’s condition and also [talk] to my owner. You know, [travelling to] Hong Kong is a bit difficult.”
Ferraris finally tastes Sha Tin success
David Ferraris snapped a nine-month drought when Blastoise took out the Class Three Iris Handicap (2,000m) at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The South African trainer hadn’t collected a winner at the main venue since Magnetism saluted over the same trip on January 19, with all 12 of his victories in between coming at Happy Valley.
Ferraris now has five winners for the term with three of them coming with apprentice Jerry Chau Chun-lok in the saddle.
“It’s very nice [to get a winner at Sha Tin again],” Ferraris said. “I just race my horses where I find the right races for them and Happy Valley is a lot weaker, but this was the perfect race for this horse. His pedigree doesn’t suggest much stamina, but he is an exception.”
Blastoise appreciated Chau’s 10-pound claim, responding under pressure when Vincy challenged him in the run to the line.
The five-year-old also enjoyed his off-season spent in Conghua.
“I sent him to spell for a bit [in Conghua],” he said. “It was great just to get a complete break from the environment. There was a huge difference when he came back.”
Shinn shines with Plikclone
Plikclone is on his way to becoming Blake Shinn’s favourite horse after the two combined for their second wins of the campaign in the Class Five Violet Handicap (1,200m) – but they will have to press pause on their relationship next start.
After struggling in his first season, the David Hall-trained five-year-old looks a new horse in 2020-21, rattling off back-to-back victories and he will now graduate to Class Four.
That’s a problem for Shinn because he won’t be able to get Plikclone’s weight next time out.
“He’ll have a photo of him somewhere,” Hall joked of Shinn’s connection with the gelding. “He won’t be able to ride him next time but I’m sure he’ll remember him.
“He’s probably going to have [a rating of] 43 and Blake’s minimum is 121 [pounds], so it’s no chance for him. I don’t know who we’ll get but there will be a few happy to ride him the way he’s going.”
The win was another tick for Conghua, the Jockey Club’s training centre in the mainland, with Hall acknowledging its role in helping turn Plikclone around.
“I think you’d have to give some credit to the Conghua facility for sure,” he said. “Obviously he’s a bit more mature and a lot more relaxed in the yard and he may have been like that if he stayed here but the trip up there and the environment helps the horses. It’s great to see the Conghua horses going well.”
Yung the Master with a double
Benno Yung Tin-pang took the training honours on Sunday, collecting a double as Speed Fay Fay and Ka Ying Master saluted.
Chad Schofield drove the former home by the narrowest of margins in a blanket finish to win the fourth race – a neck separated the first six horses over the line – to mark a welcome change of fortune for the four-year-old.
“I told the owner that he had a chance in this class,” Yung said. “He hasn’t had a lot of luck – quite a few times he’s had a wide draw and he did again today. But Chad did a good job and had him in a good position. He deserved a win.”
Ka Ying Master secured his fourth win from 10 starts with a bold showing in the Class Three Camellia Handicap (1,200m) under Vagner Borges.
“The horse has got a lot of natural ability,” Yung said. “But he had a breathing issue and that was a big barrier for him. If he didn’t have that problem, I think he’d be a Class One horse.”