The extraordinary quality of the Japanese thoroughbred is likely to be showcased again on Sunday in the four features which make up the Hong Kong International Races.
The races have stood up well despite the impact of Covid-19, which has condemned the Cup and the Vase to just eight and seven runners respectively.
The strength of the Australian sprint form will also be tested as Classique Legend (Not A Single Doubt), now representing Hong Kong and trained by Caspar Fownes, takes on ten local sprinters, two from Japan and one from Singapore in the Group 1 Sprint at 1200 metres.
The Japanese claimed three of the four Group 1 races at last year’s meeting and have also been brilliantly represented in recent times by Lord Kanaloa (King Kamehameha), Maurice (Screen Hero), A Shin Hikari (Deep Impact) and Satono Crown (Marju).
The pandemic has severely limited Japan’s international forays this year and complicated preparations for many who were shipped to Dubai only to have the World Cup meeting cancelled.
That group included defending Hong Kong champions Admire Mars (Daiwa Major) and Win Bright (Stay Gold), who return for the Mile and Cup respectively.
Admire Mars faces the not insignificant stumbling block of the Australian-bred Hong Kong sensation Golden Sixty (Medaglia D’Oro) in the 1600-metre Group 1, while a seemingly out-of-form Win Bright, despite having won the QEII Cup at his only other Hong Kong run, might, I fancy, be playing second fiddle to compatriot Danon Premium (Deep Impact) in the Cup.
Golden Sixty, trained by Francis Lui, recorded his 13th win from 14 starts and became just the fourth horse to win ten consecutive races in Hong Kong, emulating greats Silent Witness (El Moxie), Beauty Generation (Road To Rock) and Co-Tack (Top Role), when he won the Jockey Club Mile on November 22.
He would look to have the local opposition, whom he’s met of late, covered despite now meeting all at level weights.
Admire Mars, last year’s runner-up Waikuku (Harbour Watch) and Order Of Australia (Australia) are three who might stand in his way.
Given the Dubai misadventure, Admire Mars has raced just three times since last December and just once right-handed at 1600 metres, which was his most recent credible third to the outstanding Gran Alegria (Deep Impact), whose run of three straight wins began with conquering Almond Eye (Lord Kanaloa) in the Yasuda Kinen.
I would unhesitatingly argue this Japanese form around Almond Eye and Gran Alegria is the strongest turf form anywhere in the world in 2020.
Christophe Soumillon again rides Admire Mars whose trainer Yasuo Tomomichi’s one previous HKIR runner was Vivlos (Deep Impact), who finished second in the 2018 Mile.
That’s some strike rate, which contrasts interestingly – and cheekily – with those of two of the world’s great training names who oppose him here. Aidan O’Brien, with Order Of Australia, is batting just two from 20 at the HKIR and both wins came with Highland Reel (Galileo).
John Size, who runs Waikuku first-up from a break of almost eight months, is just three wins from 55 runners in the Group 1s at this fixture. Mind you, he’s had a further 12 placings and one of those wins was, of course, with Glorious Days (Hussonet), who resumed from a six-month break to win the Mile in 2013.
Order Of Australia certainly adds intrigue, and is probably overpriced in current markets, given his Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile win came at his only start at the distance since his debut on heavy ground. For the record, O’Brien has run five three-year-olds in the Mile and none were placed.
Danon Premium faces two chief rivals in the Hong Kong Cup – O’Brien’s wonderfully consistent mare Magical (Galileo) and the promising French raider Skalleti (Kendargent), trained by the equally promising Jerome Reynier.
Remarkably, all three have form behind this year’s Ranvet and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Addeybb (Pivotal), who ended his 2020 with victory in the Champion Stakes at Ascot in which Skalleti and Magical finished second and third respectively. Danon Premium was third in the Queen Elizabeth, with Verry Elleegant (Zed) third.
Danon Premium prepared for this with a solid fourth in the Tenno Sho Autumn behind Almond Eye. It was his first run for five months and he led through the first 1200 metres, clocking a solid 1.12.50 in a race which evolved in favour of the closers.
Skalleti may be dismissed as a wet-tracker but there’s enough evidence from his limited number of runs on good ground to suggest he might be as capable on a firmer surface.
Tomorrow’s barrier draw may impact the Sprint but Classique Legend (Not A Single Doubt) is likely superior to these horses if this is not one grand final too many, while Hot King Prawn (Denman) and Computer Patch (Exceed And Excel) likely have an edge over the “true” locals.
While run-on Japanese sprinters do not profile well in this race, Danon Smash (Lord Kanaloa) and Tower Of London (Raven’s Pass) add interest. Singapore’s Inferno (Holy Roman Emperor) was set to play a part as well, but was withdrawn yesterday.
Danon Smash, with his Gran Alegria form and the significant engagement of Ryan Moore, appeals as the best of that trio provided he’s not slow to begin, which he is wont to do.
The Vase lacks depth and therefore betting appeal. Tony Cruz, whose HKIR strike rate is an excellent ten winners from 70 runners, may strike again with Exultant (Teofilo), who is ably suited back to 2400 metres and weight-for-age conditions.
The three-year-old Mogul (Galileo) represents Ballydoyle after scoring a fast win the Grand Prix de Paris (from which the form held up in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, albeit on soft ground) before settling last and finishing fifth in a slowly run Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Three-year-olds have three times won the Vase. The most recent was Highland Reel in 2015 after he’d finished third to Winx (Street Cry) in the Cox Plate. Five have since competed and been unplaced.