Hong Kong 2023 International Races Preview

December 8th, 2023

Hong Kong’s international raceday is one of the most lucrative in the world, and it regularly attracts some of the world’s best horses. However, the standard of Hong Kong racing is such that it’s difficult for foreign raiders to win, especially over the shorter distances.

Here is a look at some options for playing the big races on Sunday morning.

Race 4, 1:10 a.m. ET: Longines Hong Kong Vase (G1), 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles), HK$24,000,000 ($3.07 million)

This is the international race that Hong Kong horses have the most trouble keeping at home, and this year looks to be no exception as some top-class runners from Europe and Japan take on three locals.

Aidan O’Brien’s filly #9 Warm Heart aims to go one better than her second to Inspiral in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). A similar performance will take the dual European Group 1 winner close here. England’s #5 West Wind Blows has placed several times at the top level but looked like he’d had enough for the year when failing in the Champion Stakes (G1) in Melbourne last month and needs a form reversal, while French runner #1 Junko won the Grosser Preis von Bayern (G1) at his last start.

Japan has won three of the last four runnings of this race, and they have some decent chances again. The improving three-year-old #8 Lebensstil didn’t contest the Japanese classics but looked a horse on the up when winning the Asahi Hai St Lite Kinen (G2) in September. The mare #7 Geraldina, a daughter of Japan Cup (G1) winner Gentildonna, has been running decent races in Group 1 company at home and may find this easier, while #3 Zeffiro won the Copa Republica Argentina (G2) nicely last time.

The locals look a little outpaced here, with #2 Senor Toba probably the best of them.

In an even line-up, I’m going to take Geraldina, with Warm Heart the biggest danger.

  • $10 win/$30 show: #7 Geraldina
  • $2 trifecta: 2, 9 with 2, 3, 9 with 1, 2, 3, 8, 9

Race 5, 1:50 a.m. ET: Longines Hong Kong Sprint (G1), 1,200 meters (about six furlongs), HK$26 million ($3.33 million)

This is a race that’s hard for foreign horses to win, with only two Japanese runners taking the honors away from Hong Kong stables since 2011. Unfortunately for the visitors, the locals look as strong as ever and include #1 Lucky Sweynesse, the highest-rated sprinter in the world.

There is a strong international challenge in this race. But if Lucky Sweynesse is in the form he was in the first half of the year, when he was untouchable even when conceding up to 20 pounds to some of his opponents, the race is almost certainly his.

What gives his opponents some hope is that he hasn’t been racing quite as well in his three starts since October. In the first two he had excuses — he gave away 20 pounds when second by 2 1/2 lengths behind #5 Victor The Winner first up, and was just a head away when giving 14 pounds to #4 Sight Success in the Premier Bowl (G2). But even though he won next time, in the Jockey Club Sprint (G2), he had a tougher than expected battle against Victor The Winner and was on top by just a neck while conceding five pounds.

Victor The Winner, Sight Success, and last year’s Hong Kong Sprint winner #2 Wellington are clearly the locals most likely to topple Lucky Sweynesse.

The international contingent includes Prix l’Abbaye (G1) winner #10 Highland Princess, Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) third #6 Aesop’s Fables, and the Japanese pair #3 Mad Cool and #8 Jasper Krone. On form Highfield Princess is the best of them, but barrier nine will not help her.

Despite the doubts, I’m taking Lucky Sweynesse to win and using him as a banker in exotics.

  • $20 win: #1 Lucky Sweynesse
  • $2 trifecta: 1 with 2, 5, 6, 10 with 2, 5, 6, 10

Race 7, 3:00 a.m. ET: Longines Hong Kong Mile (G1), 1,600 meters (about one mile), HK$32 million ($4.1 million)

The big question here is whether Hong Kong champion #1 Golden Sixty is ready to win this at his first race in 7 1/2 months. At eight years of age he’s not getting any younger, but he showed little sign of regression at seven, missing victory only in this race among five seven-year-old starts.

However, he’s had four barrier trials to get ready and looked in good shape when second in the most recent trial to Hong Kong Cup favorite Romantic Warrior. If he’s at his best, he’s a big chance, despite his outside gate.

#2 California Spangle, who beat Golden Sixty last year after a more favorable journey, won his first start this term and though he was a little disappointing when fourth in the Jockey Club Mile (G2) Nov. 19 after an early speed battle, he is good enough to bounce back. #7 Beauty Eternal and #8 Beauty Joy, the first two home in the Jockey Club Mile, add to the strength of the locals.

The best of the visitors is probably #13 Namur, winner of the Mile Championship (G1) in Japan in last-to-first fashion. Fellow Japanese entry #5 Soul Rush was second that day, with #3 Danon The Kid and #4 Serifos midfield.

Of the European visitors, Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) runner-up #12 Cairo is largely unexposed and could get some of this, while France’s #6 Tribalist hasn’t taken on Group 1 company this year and probably needs a downpour to have a chance.

Golden Sixty still looks the one to beat, with California Spangle and Namur the biggest dangers.

  • $20 win: #1 Golden Sixty
  • $2 trifecta: 1, 2 with 1, 2, 13 with 1, 2, 7, 8, 13

Race 8, 3:40 a.m. ET: Longines Hong Kong Cup (G1), 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles), HK$36,000,000 ($4.61 million)

Twelve months ago #2 Romantic Warrior was a dominant winner of this race for Hong Kong after one lead-up at home. This year, he tackles the race after taking out Australia’s premier 1 1/4-mile race, the Cox Plate (G1) in late October. He’s won a trial since returning home, and looks extremely tough to beat.

This year, his toughest opponent may well be Irish. Aidan O’Brien has brought #1 Luxembourg, who hasn’t raced since stretching subsequent Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner Auguste Rodin to half a length in the Irish Champion Stakes (G1). He seems to be best at 1 1/4 miles and if O’Brien has him in peak condition, he could give Romantic Warrior a test.

Japan, as always, is well-represented. Their best look to be #3 Prognosis, third behind superstar Equinox in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1) last time out, and #4 Rousham Park, a top performer at Group 2 level this year. But Prognosis was easily held by Romantic Warrior in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) here in April and on that form it’s hard to see him toppling the favorite.

Hong Kong has some other useful runners, most notably #7 Straight Arron, #8 Sword Point, and #6 Money Catcher, but they are most likely running for minor money.

Though Luxembourg presents a genuine threat, Romantic Warrior is still the one they all have to beat.

  • $20 win: #2 Romantic Warrior
  • $2 trifecta: 1, 2 with 1, 2, 3 with 1, 2, 3, 7, 8