How to play the four Hong Kong International races

December 9th, 2022

The spotlight of world racing turns to Sha Tin racecourse in Hong Kong on Saturday for the rich four-race international series.

Three of the four races — the Sprint, Mile, and Cup — are the richest Group 1 events on turf in the world at their respective distances, while the other, the Vase, is in the top 10 richest.

However, as is frequently the case, it will be hard for horses outside Hong Kong or Japan to take these prizes away from Asia. The best chance for the intercontinental raiders will come in the Vase, and there’s no certainty there.

As always, the races look competitive and there should be some good returns. Let’s have a closer look.

Race 4, 1:10 a.m Sunday ET: Hong Kong Vase (G1), 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles), 3-year-olds and up

The least valuable international race of the evening, which at $2.8 million is still worth more than any turf race in Europe bar the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), or any grass race in North America bar the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). It’s also without doubt the race that the locals will have most trouble with winning, having taken it only three times in its 28-year history.

Seeking an unprecedented third victory in this race is Japanese seven-year-old #3 Glory Vase. He’s been below the best in his home country, having never won at Group 1 level, and his 2022 record isn’t inspiring; eighth in the Sheema Classic (G1) at Dubai, albeit less than three lengths from the winner, and sixth in the Sapporo Kinen (G2) over his less-preferred trip of 1 1/4 miles. However, he has peaked twice for this race, and there’s every chance he can do so again.

One of the horses that beat him in Japan last year is opposing him here — the mare #9 Win Marilyn. She was third in the Sapporo Kinen and then second in Japan’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) over 1 3/8 miles. On 2022 form, she can beat Glory Vase, though she may have to overcome the latter’s ability to peak here.

The other five foreigners are from Europe. On form, the best prospect is probably Breeders’ Cup Turf runner-up #10 Stone Age; he hasn’t won in six starts since May, but this is arguably weaker than most of those races, and he has Ryan Moore aboard. Stablemate #1 Broome has been hard to follow at times but can win with a peak effort; he has an interesting rider booking in Japanese legend Yutaka Take.

Germany’s #4 Mendocino and France’s #2 Bubble Gift both failed last time out on very wet footing in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe but can be in the finish here on better ground. The other French raider, #4 Botanik, hasn’t run at Group 1 level before but has shown plenty on reasonable footing in the past.

The Hong Kong team doesn’t look strong, with Jockey Club Cup (G2) third #6 Senor Toba probably the best of them.

I’m going to predict a mild upset and go for Win Marilyn to stop Glory Vase from winning this for a third time, with Stone Age the best of the Europeans.

  • $10 win/$30 show: #9 Win Marilyn
  • $1.30 trifecta: 3, 9 with 3, 9, 10 with 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 10

Race 5, 1:50 a.m. Sunday ET: Hong Kong Sprint (G1), 1,200 meters (about 6 furlongs), 3 year-olds and up

In contrast to the Vase, this $3.1 million contest has been very tough to take away from the Hong Kong contingent — many of whom are sourced from Australia, the land of the turf sprinter. Just six of the 23 renewals have gone to foreign horses, and the last three of those were from Japan.

The main lead-up to watch, therefore, was the Jockey Club Sprint (G2) Nov. 20, in which all nine of the locals in Sunday’s event participated; it went the way of the fast-improving #4 Lucky Sweynesse, who overcame a wide draw to win. He’s drawn more favorably here in gate four.

Going on his victory in that event, it would be a surprise if any of his foes from that race can beat Lucky Sweynesse bar champion Hong Kong sprinter #1 Wellington. He beat Lucky Sweynesse at their previous start, the Premier Bowl (G2), despite conceding 11 pounds, and though he faded disappointingly in the Jockey Club Sprint, he was found to be lame afterwards. Trainer Richard Gibson says he’s back to his best, and if that’s the case he can win.

The foreign challenge is made up of the Singapore visitor #8 Lim’s Kosciuszko, an unknown quantity internationally who probably needs to show more than he’s done in disposing of his home rivals, and the Japanese quartet of #3 Gendarme, #6 Naran Huleg, #13 Meikei Yell, and #14 Resistencia. The latter was second in this last year to #2 Sky Field in a race where a fall took five horses out; don’t take too much notice of her recent form as it’s been over an unsuitable trip of a mile.

Gendarme, a U.S.-bred son of Kitten’s Joy, was impressive in winning the Sprinters Stakes (G1) Oct. 2. Naran Huleg, third in that race, had earlier won Japan’s other top sprint, the Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1). Meikei Yell faded after being caught wide in the Sprinters Stakes but could improve with barrier four and the services of the world’s leading jockey of 2022, James McDonald.

If Wellington has indeed recovered from his problems from the Jockey Club Sprint, he’s capable of winning this so I’m going to support him over Lucky Sweynesse, with several others for exotics, including Jockey Club Sprint third #9 Duke Wai.

  • $10 win/$30 show: #1 Wellington
  • $1.30 trifecta: 1, 4 with 1, 4 with 3, 6, 8, 9, 13, 14

Race 7, 3:00 a.m. Sunday ET: Hong Kong Mile (G1), 1,600 meters (about 1 mile), 3 year-olds and up

This race is really all about the champion of Hong Kong, #1 Golden Sixty. Winner of 22 races from 25 starts, he’s seeking his third victory in this $3.9 million event; victory would take his career earnings to about $15.5 million, putting him among the top five earners of all time. More to the point, it’s very hard to bet against him.

It did appear that Hong Kong may have found a worthy opponent for the champ in the form of #2 California Spangle, who was backed to beat Golden Sixty in the Jockey Club Mile (G2). But despite receiving five pounds, having the advantage of a lead-up run while Golden Sixty was first-up, and setting a very slow pace in front, California Spangle still came up short. So it’s hard to see the tables being turned at level weights.

The foreign challenge includes the Australian Group 1 placegetter #7 Laws Of Indices and the Japanese trio of #3 Salios (third last year), #4 Schnell Meister, and #10 Danon Scorpion. All are Group 1-quality horses, but they would need to be at least of the quality of Japan’s 2015 winner Maurice to beat Golden Sixty at his best, and none have the form to suggest that.

Exotics are probably the best bet; for the minor slots I’m going to include last year’s runner-up #8 More Than This as well as some of the above-mentioned horses.

  • $30 win: #1 Golden Sixty
  • $1.30 trifecta: 1 with 2 with 3, 4, 8, 10
  • $1.30 trifecta: 1 with 3, 4, 8, 10 with 2

Race 8, 3:40 a.m. Sunday ET: Hong Kong Cup (G1), 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles), 3-year-olds and up

Once a great race for international raiders, this has been dominated by Japan in recent years, having won five of the last seven. However, Hong Kong has a very strong contender this year in #2 Romantic Warrior, who has won eight of his nine starts.

Winner of the Hong Kong Derby and the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) earlier this year, Romantic Warrior put up a fantastic performance in the Jockey Club Cup (G2) last month, giving weight away and a solid beating to his local rival #7 Tourbillon Diamond. There’s little doubt he has the measure of his local opponents. What then of the raiders?

Japan’s challenge is five-strong, led by Dubai Turf (G1) dead-heater #1 Panthalassa. A dashing frontrunner, he will test any stamina weaknesses Romantic Warrior may have. He only just failed last start in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1) after establishing a huge early lead, but did beat home race rivals #3 Jack D’Or (fourth) and #11 Geoglyph (ninth).

Jack D’Or earlier in the year beat Panthalassa at level weights in the Sapporo Kinen (G2), and on that form he’s right in this as well.

Of the other Japanese runners, #6 Danon The Kid has shown his best form is at a mile, while #12 Lei Papale, sixth in this last year, still has a bit to prove.

Aidan O’Brien’s 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) hero #4 Order of Australia couldn’t cope with Golden Sixty in the Hong Kong Mile two years ago so he’s being asked to step up to 1 1/4 miles this year, a distance he hasn’t tackled since October 2020. He has won at 1 1/2 miles so the stamina is there; the question is whether he’s in the same class as Romantic Warrior and Panthalassa. He can probably sneak a place at his best.

Outside Romantic Warrior and Tourbillon Diamond, the best local is last year’s third-place finisher #5 Russian Emperor. However, his two lead-up runs have been disappointing and you’d have to take him on trust.

Despite Romantic Warrior’s strong prospects, I’m going to back Panthalassa to beat him for a reasonable price, and then take the pair as anchors in trifectas.

  • $10 win/$30 show: #1 Panthalassa
  • $1.30 trifecta: 1, 2 with 1, 2, 3 with 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 12