Whichever horse wins Sunday’s HK$34 million Group One Longines Hong Kong Cup, the city’s richest race, there is a strong possibility they may have to break Sha Tin’s 2,000m course record to pocket the prize.

The presence in this year’s Hong Kong Cup field of not one but two relentless Japanese front runners – Panthalassa and Jack d’Or – along with a bevy of local gallopers who like to race close to the speed means Win Bright’s time of 1:58.81, which he set in winning the 2019 Group One QEII Cup, is in serious jeopardy of losing its place in the record books.

Throughout the week leading into Sunday’s Hong Kong International Races (HKIR) showpiece, Panthalassa’s trainer, Yoshito Yahagi, and Jack d’Or’s handler, Kenichi Fujioka, have played mind games about the Hong Kong Cup speed map.

At Friday’s HKIR press conference, Fujioka, speaking through an interpreter, said it was not a forgone conclusion Jack d’Or would settle somewhere behind Panthalassa in the Cup’s early stages.

“Everybody seems to think Panthalassa takes the lead, but I’m thinking about special tactics,” said Fujioka, who has booked legendary Japanese jockey Yutaka Take to ride Jack d’Or for the first time.

“I hope Take listens to my tactics, but he’s a legend, so I have to respect him.”

Jack d’Or led five consecutive contests – winning four of them – before the first of his two clashes with Panthalassa, August’s Group Two Sapporo Kinen (2,000m) that ended in Fujioka’s four-year-old beating Yahagi’s five-year-old by a neck.

Two months later, in what will go down in history as an all-time-great edition of the Group One Tenno Sho Autumn (2,000m), Panthalassa started at such a fast pace he established a 15-length lead before he ran out of petrol in Tokyo’s home straight, finishing a one-length second behind Equinox but three-quarters of a length ahead of fourth-placed Jack d’Or.

HKIR: Watch the last start of every HK Cup runner, including Panthalassa

As good as Panthalassa is, he is one-dimensional, and if Fujioka and Take do not conclude discretion is the better part of valour, these two Japanese horses could cut each other’s throats and set up the Cup for a more conservatively ridden stayer.

Such a scenario would be a dream for Danny Shum Chap-shing-prepared Romantic Warrior, who improved his career numbers to eight wins from nine starts when he won the Group Two Jockey Club Cup (2,000m) under James McDonald in the fastest course-and-distance victory by a Hong Kong-based galloper.

Romantic Warrior’s first-up victory following his 210-day spell represented a personal best, and the odds of him regressing second up are relatively long given not only his outstanding credentials but also those of his trainer Shum and rider McDonald.

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