Jockey Club race day is typically one of the best of the season. The build-up for the Longines Hong Kong International Races is well and truly on and the city’s top horses are out in force.
But upon seeing the entries for Sunday’s three Group Twos, the first reaction was disappointment. They are small fields that lack any depth at the top-end.
There are two main hopes in the Sprint – Hot King Prawn and Computer Patch – but neither have won a Group One.
Rising star Golden Sixty is the one to beat in the Mile and clashes with Group One globetrotter Southern Legend, the honest Ka Ying Star and up-and-comer Mighty Giant.
The Cup is a race in two between reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year Exultant and the rejuvenated Furore.
There are only three horses among the 26 runners who have won Group Ones in the past 12 months – Exultant, Southern Legend and Time Warp, who had a setback recently and looks well short of his best. That’s it. The rest either have issues or don’t belong in the deep end of the pool.
Any decent internationals sitting on the fence about making the trip for December 13 should look at those fields and immediately get in contact with their travel agent.
Last year, the three features were races six, seven and eight on the programme. This time around they are three, five and seven. Officials generally put the most competitive races at the back end of the card to maximise betting, so that tells you how they rate them.
It feels like the worst Jockey Club race day in years, but can it be proven?
We went back through the archives and picked out three key statistics that highlight the strength of the Group Twos – the size of the fields, the average rating of the horses competing and how many have won Group Ones in the previous 12 months. A simple formula.
We only went back five years because going beyond that would be like comparing apples to bananas. Internationals competed in 2014 – Hana’s Gold and Spalato made the trip – while the four-year-old series events were classified as Group Ones so they artificially boost the third factor.
Even though the sample size is small, the numbers for this year’s meeting don’t make pretty reading.
To recap, this year’s meeting has the equal fewest runners (alongside 2018), the lowest average rating and is also in the cellar when it comes to Group One winners in the past 12 months.
Overall, it is clearly the worst line-up of that group.
If you drill down a bit further, the single worst race (according to average rating) of the 18 is the 2017 Jockey Club Cup (108.88), an eight-horse contest won by Werther.
Next is the 2016 Jockey Club Cup (112) where Secret Weapon beat home eight rivals. The third and fourth worst belong to 2020, the Cup (112.56) edging out the Sprint (113.5).
For context, the three races with the highest average rating are the 2018 Mile (122.25) won by Beauty Generation, the 2016 Sprint (122.22) that Not Listenin’tome took out and the 2018 Sprint (122.22) where Hot King Prawn prevailed.
Of course, there are some mitigating factors for the poor showing – ageing superstar Beauty Generation is being saved for a final tilt at the Hong Kong Mile, Group One winners like Beat The Clock and Mr Stunning have been retired and injuries have stopped genuine talents Aethero and Rise High from being there – but these things happen every year.
The reality is when it comes to Group One depth, Hong Kong racing is in a lean patch and there is no point shying away from it – the talent just isn’t there at the moment. Hopefully the next generation can pick up the slack.
The good news is that Golden Sixty should establish himself as the jurisdiction’s home-grown superstar, one of the world’s best sprinters – Classique Legend – is now calling Hong Kong home and Exultant is still a gun. It’s not all doom and gloom and HKIR will still be a highlight.
But it doesn’t change the fact this is the worst Jockey Club race day in years – the numbers confirm it.