The Japanese have made the Longines Hong Kong International Races their playground in recent years, and if Wednesday’s nominations for the December showcase are anything to go by, gallopers from the Land of the Rising Sun will be having a significant say in the city’s biggest race day again.
The initial HKIR entries need to be taken with a pinch of salt – very few of the stars among the bevy of nominations make it to Sha Tin – but if there’s one nation that’s guaranteed to show up with a strong hand, it’s Japan.
The Japanese have won seven of the 12 HKIR features across the past three years, snaring two Group Ones last year, two in 2020 and three in 2019.
Their hat-trick in 2019 was the second time the Japanese have gone within one victory of a HKIR clean sweep, with the other coming way back in 2001.
They also doubled up in 2015 and 2016 – largely thanks to Maurice – but it’s more recently Japan’s stranglehold on the event has become vice like.
Could 2022 be the year it finally does the clean sweep, like the home team did for the first time in 2018?
While it might not be quite as high on the Japanese bucket list as winning the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, there’s nothing to say they won’t head home with a HKIR four-timer before they finally capture that elusive French feature.
Not since 2013 has Japan entered so many horses for HKIR, with this year’s 63 only six short of how many threw their hat in the ring nine years ago, and considerably more than the 40 and 43 Japanese gallopers, respectively, who showed interest during the past two pandemic-hit editions.
Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges predicted a strong Japanese HKIR contingent because of a weakened yen – “the Japanese, when you look at the currency, we’ll probably see a very strong Japanese contingent” – and it’s hard to see him being anything but bang on the money.
We know the Japanese can win in Hong Kong without sending their best gallopers – Glory Vase, for example, has never won a Group One anywhere except Hong Kong.
Glory Vase looks poised to have a crack at a record third victory in the Hong Kong Vase and is joined by four fellow Group One winners in the Japanese nominations for the 2,400m staying test.
Glory Vase is returning to Hong Kong!— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) October 19, 2022
Can he become the first three-time winner of the HK$22 million G1 @LONGINES Hong Kong Vase in December? #グローリーヴェイズ 🎌
❓ 2022@netkeiba #競馬 | #HKIR #HKracing pic.twitter.com/A1qeCpVlBf
One key ingredient that’ll be missing for the Tomohito Ozeki-trained Glory Vase is Joao Moreira, the injured Brazilian who partnered the seven-year-old to his two Sha Tin victories.
Elsewhere, the Japanese have entered four Group One winners in the Hong Kong Sprint – including last year’s runner-up Resistencia – and a mouthwatering eight elite-level victors for the Hong Kong Mile.
Japanese gallopers Win Bright, Normcore and Loves Only You have won the past three editions of the Hong Kong Cup, and that’s the HKIR race that’s garnered the most interest from the Land of the Rising Sun with 33 entries, including seven Group One winners.
While exactly who’ll be standing in Japan’s way from elsewhere on the planet is little short of a lottery, it does seem like the home team will have its most well-rounded HKIR hand in some years.
With Sky Field and Wellington heading the Sprint division, the city’s one genuine superstar Golden Sixty joined by the swiftly up-and-coming California Spangle in the Mile, likely Cup runner Romantic Warrior boasting the potential to be anything and Russian Emperor possibly going for the Vase, Hong Kong could have a genuine chance in all four HKIR features.
Of course, you’d still bet on Japan prevailing in at least as many features as Hong Kong. An even safer bet is after December 11, Jockey Club bean counters will be converting at least some, if not most, of the marquee meeting’s HK$110 million in prize money into yen.