The Longines Hong Kong International Races week culminates at Sha Tin on Sunday with a glittering card on which four Group One races will be staged. World Horse Racing analyst Andrew Hawkins discusses the main contenders in the top-tier contests for Adiyat Racing Plus.
HONG KONG CUP – 2000M
Last year's winner Romantic Warrior, so imperious 12 months ago, is looking to become just the second back-to-back winner of this race, joining California Memory. He is also looking to become the first horse to complete the Group 1 QEII Cup-Group 1 Hong Kong Cup double in consecutive years. A spectacular G1 Cox Plate victory in Australia promises plenty but he needs to improve again to retain the crown.
The horse who finished second to Romantic Warrior in April's QEII Cup, Prognosis, appears the biggest danger and arguably the most likely winner. Circumstances saw him end up well back in the QEII Cup and his effort to rattle home for second was tremendous.
Since then, he has won the G2 Sapporo Kinen - with the likes of Win Marilyn and Shahryar beaten more than 15 lengths - before he flew home from last for third in the G1 Tenno Sho (Autumn), which was won in world record time for 2000m by Equinox. Three-time G1 winner Luxembourg, always dangerous in races like these, as well as emerging French three-year-old Horizon Dore, represent Europe, but the QEII Cup form looks the strongest and you can expect them to finish in reverse order here.
HONG KONG VASE – 2400M
Eleven years ago, Australian mare Sea Siren arrived at Sha Tin favoured to claim the G1 Hong Kong Sprint. She finished a well-beaten ninth behind Lord Kanaloa. This year, her daughter Warm Heart arrives from Ireland attempting to take the G1 Hong Kong Vase after a season that includes victories in the G1 Yorkshire Oaks, the G1 Prix Vermeille and the G2 Ribblesdale Stakes. She comes to Hong Kong in good form, having narrowly failed to beat Inspiral in the G1 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Her main danger is another Breeders' Cup runner, G1 Breeders' Cup Turf third Shahryar.
Diagnosed with a throat issue after he finished down the track behind Prognosis, he bounced back to something near his best at Santa Anita. A winner of the G1 Tokyo Yushun - the Japanese Derby - and the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic, it would be some feat if he could add a third feature in three years. G1 Caulfield Cup runner-up West Wind Blows, the regally bred Geraldina and last- start G1 Grosser Preis von Bayern winner Junko add more fire to the international travelling brigade.
HONG KONG MILE
Golden Sixty could join Good Ba Ba as the only three-time winners of a HKIR contest should he land his third G1 Hong Kong Mile. That was expected to occur last year, but an off day saw him caught out by the reopposing California Spangle. Since then, Golden Sixty has proven his superiority over the local milers and, even first-up here, it is hard to see that changing.
Therefore, it's about who among the visitors could potentially step up and challenge for the crown. Like many of these races, the key lies with the Japanese. Namur was sublime winning the G1 Mile Championship recently with Soul Rush (second), Danon The Kid (fifth) and Serifos (eighth) all in behind.
Trainer Tomakazu Takano has seemingly unlocked the key to her and she may just be a terrific miler after being tried over further last season. If there is one though that could step forward out of the Mile Championship, it is Serifos. A soft draw may allow him to produce that trademark turn of foot. The Japanese can upset the Golden Sixty bandwagon - it's just a matter of which one to choose!
HONG KONG SPRINT – 1200M
While the Hong Kong brigade looks as vulnerable as ever in this division, there also appear to be few worthy challengers capable of knocking off the best local speedsters. Highfield Princess is a genuine star of the sprinting ranks globally, but she faces a number of hurdles if she is to produce her best and early signs suggest that she is struggling to adapt to her new environment.
However, trainer John Quinn is a master horseman and it would be quite some story if she could add a fifth G1 win in a fourth country. Japanese sprinter Mad Cool is on the way up but also appears to be living up to his name, while compatriot Jasper Krone is coming off a tough run at Santa Anita in the G1 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, a race that also threw up Irish competitor Aesop's Fables.
Locally, Lucky Sweynesse is the clear standout but he has undergone a strange preparation. He has had a gruelling year and while he is the best of the locals, that long year could catch up with him. Still, there is nothing with enough upside to turn the tables - not even last year's winner Wellington, who has been comfortably beaten since by Lucky Sweynesse - and it should be Hong Kong's champion sprinter landing the prize.