At the best of times the myriad of overseas superstars among the initial entries for the Hong Kong International Races counts for very little until the final fields come out.
Whether they count for anything at all in these times – far from the worst but even further from the best – remains to be seen as the Jockey Club sweats on the government approval required to ensure international participation in its showcase meeting in December.
Officials are taking a wait-and-see approach and there is a certain level of optimism the quarantine bubble the Jockey Club has been granted twice in the past 12 months will again eventuate, allowing international participants to compete in Hong Kong without interacting with the general population.
Hearts would have skipped a beat at Sports Road this week though, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor confirming Hong Kong is set to end a number of Covid-19 quarantine-exemption privileges for travellers as part of an effort to convince Beijing to reopen the border.
It’s not something that should impact what the Jockey Club is trying to achieve but it’s certainly an inopportune time to have quarantine exemptions in the headlines when that is exactly what Hong Kong racing requires to host a global race day on December 12.
It’s hoped there will be more clarity in the next fortnight or so and in the meantime there’s a smorgasbord of entries to ponder. Should everything go ahead as hoped, how many overseas stars won’t come, which few will, how many Hong Kong horses can stand up?
While entries are down on 12 months ago, there are still 90 overseas gallopers who have registered their interest.
Last year – when logistics were probably more difficult but the public view of special treatment for a chosen few was less jaded – a dozen gallopers of varying quality made it to Hong Kong from abroad and the internationals nabbed three of the four Group One features.
A repeat of last year’s number would be a fantastic result for the Jockey Club and the entries suggest there will be some genuine substance among whoever does make it to Sha Tin.
Hopes will be high that Aidan O’Brien will again bring some of his Breeders’ Cup runners to Hong Kong, like he did last year with Hong Kong Vase winner Mogul, Magical and Order Of Australia.
Another big name officials will be trying to convince to come to Hong Kong after the Breeders’ Cup is Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe runner-up Tarnawa, who will defend her crown in the Breeders’ Cup Turf next weekend.
The Japanese will no doubt come in force if allowed and the best result is a Gran Alegria-led cavalry descending on Sha Tin – a dream that can live on until at least after this weekend’s Tenno Sho (Autumn).
William Muir has made it clear how keen he is to bring recent Coronation Cup winner Pyledriver for the Hong Kong Vase, while with Australia poised to relax international travel restrictions there could be participation from Down Under for the first time since 2019.
There’s also the small matter of the International Jockeys’ Championship on December 8, an event that has traditionally seen four Hong Kong-based riders compete against eight internationals but was forced to switch to a six-six split last year.
Ideally the competition will revert to having eight internationals and Irishman Oisin Murphy is one who has confirmed he’s Hong Kong-bound if circumstances permit.
Two-time winner Ryan Moore as well as William Buick, Mickael Barzalona, Tom Marquand and Hollie Doyle came last year despite the challenges and will surely have been sounded out again, while James McDonald is likely to be on the Jockey Club’s wish list should travel from Australia be an option.
One thing Hong Kong racing fans can get excited about while they wait to see what sort of spectacle they will be treated to in December is the fact that at least there’s a chance to attend this year.
Only 271 people were on track on international day last year – none of whom were general public – and while numbers will still be down on a usual Sha Tin showcase meeting, anywhere up to 20,000 people will ensure the terraces are buzzing.
Let’s just hope it’s a truly global cast of equine and human superstars they are cheering on.