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Domestic strength of Hong Kong runners in evidence at Sha Tin

Steve Moran | 15.12.2018

Hong Kong’s clean sweep of the four International races at Sha Tin last Sunday gave the local jurisdiction much to cheer about, but also some level of concern.

It is clearly going to be a tougher sell, next year, to convince the British, Irish and French to travel East after the Dermot Weld trained Eziyra was the only competitor trained from those countries to finish in the first four with her third placed performance in the Vase.

However, despite that hurdle, this most ecumenical and entertaining of International race meetings will survive as it’s continued to do even after previous years when the locals have been generally too strong – to wit last year when only the Vase escaped the Hong Kong trainers.

A predicted easing of restrictions on the transport of horses between Australia and Hong Kong is likely to give the 2019 fixture a fillip; the Japanese will continue to come and, of course, it should be noted that severe interference arguably cost French-trained Waldgeist, the highest rated runner in the race, victory in the Vase.

Hong Kong remains the most convenient of locations in terms of bringing Europe and the Asia-Pacific together.

There may also be a growing spirit of co-operation among the various jurisdictions given the officials guest list at this week’s HKJC led tour of Conghua in mainland China. That list included a number of administrators from Victoria and the supposed enemy of all – New South Wales.

Given the increased competition to attract international runners, a possible starting point to potentially please all would be joint ventures between Australia and Hong Kong. There is the obvious precedent of Melbourne Cup horses heading to the Vase and the timing could well work with Australia’s newest flagships – the All Star Mile and Golden Eagle – leading into the International Group 1’s at 1600 metres and 2000 metres in Hong Kong in the spring and autumn.

In the meantime, the Jockey Club’s enterprising recruiting agent Mark Player may have to appeal to the pride of the Brits – pointing out that 25 years of perseverance finally paid off when Charlie Appleby’s Cross Counter won this year’s Melbourne Cup.

As it was, the 2018 editions may not have exactly been the Turf World Championships but they were races of genuinely competitive interest which is probably the best any jurisdiction can hope for these days. Not even the Breeders Cup can claim perennially to have the absolute best of the best.

The races provided sufficient test of the quality of the local horses.

Exultant claimed the Vase to become just the second Hong Kong trained horse to do so since the race has had Group 1 status. The Tony Cruz trained stayer, interestingly, left the UK having run fifth to Benbatl, beaten seven lengths, in the Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2017. Five weeks earlier he’d beaten Homesman, the Underwood Stakes winner and Caulfield Cup runner-up, over 1600 metres at The Curragh.

Benbatl, two lengths and likely more inferior to Winx in the Cox Plate after beating Blair House in the Caulfield Stakes, figured in the form of several HKIR runners such is the shrinking racing world. They included HK Mile runner-up Vivlos who’d run a three and a quarter lengths second to Benbatl in the Group 1 Dubai Turf (1800m) in March.

An unlucky Waldgeist aside, given the difficulty of ever measuring interference, Japan’s Lys Gracieux was arguably the moral winner of the Vase having conceded a significant start in a slowly run race. She ran the race quickest last 400 metres of 23.82.

Her effort, and that of HK Cup runner-up Deirdre who was similarly thwarted by a pedestrian pace, speaks volumes to the strength of the Japanese female form which was well and truly spotlighted by Almond Eye, two weeks earlier, in the Japan Cup.

In the Sprint, tradition continued with the Australian bred Mr Stunning making it to back to back wins in the 1200 metre feature. First and third hailed from Australia, second and fourth being New Zealand bred.

New Zealand born Beauty Generation made it five wins on end and nine from eleven this season and last, with a spectacular performance in the HK Mile. He’s the track record holder at Sha Tin at 1600 metres and 2200 metres.

He is the world’s best miler and has advanced from his Australian career – as many John Moore trained horses have done – which included more than propitious performances: a third to Press Statement and Le Romain in the Group 2 Hobartville Stakes at Rosehill in February 2016 and a second to Tarzino, with Caulfield Cup winner Jameka third, in the March 2016 Group 1 Rosehill Guineas.

Glorious Forever, by Archipenko, took the HK Cup and is even more advanced from his form in the UK where he won two from nine when prepared by Ed Walker, who had Stormy Antarctic run second last of eight here. The performance of the dual South African Gr 1 winner Northern Superstar was meritorious given his rushed preparation. He just might be a star of Hong Kong racing next season.  

The subsequent performances of HKIR winners generally speaks to the high standard of the racing.

Maintaining that standard might, nonetheless, demand some international harmony. Wonder if we might see that in Australia one of these days?

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