Legendary trainer Aidan O’Brien has answered the bell in the Jockey Club’s time of need, delivering five top-line gallopers to ensure the Longines Hong Kong International Races has a truly global flavour despite the challenges created by Covid-19.
With the pandemic continuing to wreak havoc, hosting international events is incredibly difficult but the hard work of officials behind the scenes and the lure of HK$95 million in prize money means 15 representatives from Ireland, Japan, France and Singapore will take on the best from Hong Kong at Sha Tin on December 13.
O’Brien is the key contributor and after leaving officials red-faced by withdrawing Magical and Circus Maximus just hours after last year’s announcement, the Irishman has more than atoned by committing a high-class crew.
The magnificent Magical strikes again!— Leopardstown RC (@LeopardstownRC) September 12, 2020
Magical claims back-to-back victories in the Irish Champion Stakes under Seamie Heffernan for Aidan O’Brien @IrishChampsWknd
Congratulations to @ballydoyle pic.twitter.com/8xUe4luUOL
Connecting the threads from last year to this year is star mare Magical – a seven-time Group One winner – who is the headline act in the Hong Kong Cup.
The five-year-old has been a fixture in the top European races over the past two seasons, competing against – and often beating – the likes of Ghaiyyath, Addeybb, Enable and Sir Dragonet and she is looking to finish her magnificent career on a winning note in Hong Kong’s richest race. Magical will be joined in the Cup by Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Peaceful.
Breeders’ Cup Mile champion Order Of Australia and stablemate Lope Y Fernandez provide stiff opposition to home-grown hero Golden Sixty in the Mile, while Group One winner Mogul tackles the Vase.
THE AP 1-2-3...— The Winners Enclosure (@TWEnclosure) November 8, 2020
The Ballydoyle trainer claimed a historic 1-2-3 in yesterdays Breeders Cup Mile with ORDER OF AUSTRALIA getting the better of Circus Maximus and Lope Y Fernandez
Some forecast that
Japan dominated last year’s HKIR, winning three of the four features, and will have a team of six this time around, including last year’s Mile winner Admire Mars, Cup champ Win Bright and talented types Danon Premium, Normcore, Tower Of London and Danon Smash.
French trainer Jerome Reynier is bringing two contestants in Skalleti (Cup) and Royal Julius (Vase), while boom Singapore speedster Inferno is also making the trip.
In addition to them, Australia’s best sprinter Classique Legend will take part under the care of trainer Caspar Fownes, having made a permanent move to Hong Kong after winning the Everest. The most notable nation not represented is Britain.
Rising star Golden Sixty headlines those flying the Bauhinia flag, alongside usual suspects Beauty Generation, Exultant, Furore, Waikuku, Hot King Prawn and Southern Legend.
There will be 45 competitors across the four Group Ones overall with the only disappointment being the small field of seven assembled for the Vase over 2,400m.
But given the broader circumstances, the quality of the horses assembled exceeds expectations and Jockey Club officials are delighted.
“To have entries of this calibre in any year would be notable but this year’s standard is remarkable given the challenge of the pandemic and all its attendant travel and quarantine issues,” Jockey Club executive director of racing Andrew Harding said.
The ability to create a “racing bubble” with the support of the Hong Kong government has been the key development to enable this level of participation.
Under the agreement, all visiting jockeys, trainers and stable staff will have permission to leave their designated quarantine hotels to carry out essential trackwork business at Sha Tin while clearly separated from the general population.
Alongside the horses, the Jockey Club has attracted six elite overseas riders to compete in the International Jockeys’ Championship on December 9 – Ryan Moore, Pierre-Charles Boudot, Tom Marquand, Hollie Doyle, William Buick and Mickael Barzalona – and all will be able to take rides on December 13 as well.
But while the events on the track will be at their usual high level, the usually packed stands will be basically empty as social distancing restrictions in Hong Kong tighten amid a fourth wave.