It's Hong Kong's biggest day of racing: The Longines Hong Kong International Races.
Read on for analysis of the 4 international Group 1 races on the card.
Race 4: Longines Hong Kong Vase – 2400M (1 ½ Miles): #1 Highland Reel (Best Bet), #2 Talismanic, #12 Kiseki, #3 Tiberian
Race 5: Longines Hong Kong Sprint – 1200M (6 Furlongs): #2 Lucky Bubbles, #9 Blizzard, #1 Mr. Stunning, #11 Stormy Liberal
Race 7: Longines Hong Kong Mile – 1600M (1 Mile): #7 Seasons Bloom, #14 Roly Poly, #10 Beauty Generation, #2 Helene Paragon
Race 8: Longines Hong Kong Cup – 2000M (1 1/4 Miles): #4 Werther, #3 Poet’s Word, #2 Neorealism, #9 Time Warp
Race 4: Longines Hong Kong Vase – 2400M (1 ½ Miles)
#1 Highland Reel seemingly walks off the plane anywhere in the world ready to run. He won this race in 2015 over Flintshire, and arguably ran an even sharper race here last year when he was nipped in the final 50 yards by Satono Crown, 6 lengths clear of 3rd. Highland Reel disappointed somewhat when beaten on the square by Talismanic in the Breeders Cup Turf as the favorite, but he never looked comfortable early that day. The feeling is he can improve off that effort here, likely with a comfortable trip on the front end. If he shows up with one of his better efforts, his elite form is simply too good for this field, (including Talismanic). 2/1 looks like value – best bet of the HKIR.
#2 Talismanic needs no introduction, coming here off a score in the Breeders Cup Turf in a mild upset for Godolophin. The horse with the distinctive white face is tough to knock off that peak effort and an obvious true contender, but it’s worth considering that he was not quite a top class runner this year in Europe, with the BC representing his 1st and only Group 1 win. While he won convincingly, he received a great trip in that race. That said, he appears to be peaking at the right time for this, and may be the “now” horse. Main threat.
#12 Kiseki is a lightly raced Japanese 3 year old who may be getting better with each race. He enters here off a convincing win in the Japanese St Leger over 1 7/8 M on soft turf. He gets the acid test here, but may well be this good, and the 5 lb allowance from the older runners is not insignificant. One key cause for pause, however, is that he showed symptoms of ringworm upon arrival in Hong Kong. Experts seem to feel it should have little to no impact on his performance, but anything to impact the preparation and routine coming into a race of this caliber demands a downgrade.
#3 Tiberian is being forgotten in the early betting, but has done little wrong this year in a campaign with 4 wins, including 2 wins over Talismanic. Throw out the Melbourne Cup (2 miles vs. 22 rivals), and the form comes into sharper focus. He’s another strong stayer who looks to be peaking, and can help create some value the exotics at a big price.
Race 5: Longines Hong Kong Sprint – 1200M (6 Furlongs)
#2 Lucky Bubbles was favored over Mr. Stunning in both of their prep races coming into this. The race 2-back was a fine 2nd off of a layoff, but last time out, he endured a nightmarish trip with an indecisive ride. That race is a clear toss out – look beyond it and you have a G1 winner in Hong Kong who is always right on the line. Big player here.
#9 Blizzard lacks the resume of some of the top players in here, but has run races that look good enough based on speed figures. He appears to be in top form, finishing a solid 2nd in one of the better races of the season 2-back, in a race where he may not have been fully cranked. He then followed that up with a close 5th place finish in Japan. His recent trial showed that he remains on his toes, and is a legit player as a huge overlay in this race.
#1 Mr. Stunning – Most of the Hong Kong runners here are exiting the same sequence of prep races, both won well by Mr. Stunning. He has a great draw and is very logical and a huge threat here. Hong Kong’s highest rated horse would be no surprise, but his room for error is limited, and the current odds of 3-5 are just too short.
#11 Stormy Liberal, whose connections have been deeply impacted by the tragedy in San Luis Rey will be a sentimental rooting interest. While he was a big longshot, he ran a huge race to capture the Breeders Cup Turf Sprint over the likes of Marsha and Lady Aurelia. Americans have never really fired here, and it’s fair to question whether he can run another peak effort halfway around the world off 5 weeks rest. That said, he’s at the top of his game and will go to the post at odds of greater than 40-1.
Race 7: Longines Hong Kong Mile – 1600M (1 Mile)
In a race lacking a true international standout, #7 Seasons Bloom is in the best form of the Hong Kong contingent. He kicked off the season in raging fashion with a big win in a tough Class 1 over 1200, before a 2nd place finish over 1400M, then a solid win over several of his challengers over the mile in his final prep. Top rider Joao Moreira sticks, and he looks like the one they’ll need to hold off in the lane.
Don’t sleep on #14, Roly Poly, a 3YO filly. Currently 40/1 in the betting, Roly Poly was a popular “wise guy” play in the Breeder’s Cup Mile. She disappointed that day, uncharacteristically far back in the field, but this is a softer spot, and this miss is a multiple Group 1 winner this year for Aiden O’Brien. She received a very wide draw in the 14 gate, and that has bettors essentially writing off her chances entirely. Given the set-up, expect Jamie Heffernan to try to use her speed to clear the field. Keep in mind that it is a long run down the backstretch going a mile at Sha Tin, and ground loss is not a guarantee. With a clean getaway, she’ll take some catching, and could blow up the exotics.
#10 Beauty Generation is another local in sharp current form. With a thinner local resume than some of this rivals in here, he has made the most of his strong tactical speed and grit in the stretch to take 2 of the 3 keep preps coming into this. He seems to have blossomed on the cutback to the middle distances this season and isn’t going down without a fight. A win would be tremendous for local rider Derek Leung who has been a roll this season.
#2 Helene Paragon was a narrow 2nd in this last season, and followed up the effort with a pair of G1 wins over the winter, before the form began to tail off in the spring. The last race, however, may signal that he is back on track, as he was ½ length behind Seasons Bloom under a 5 lb penalty. He is the “1st string” runner for the John Moore barn, and his best would make him tough.
Race 8: Longines Hong Kong Cup – 2000M (1 1/4 Miles)
#4 Werther has repeatedly run huge in Hong Kong’s international events, and has stamped himself as the top classic distance horse on the grounds. The prep path coming up to this has gone off without a hitch, and things are coming together for him to win his biggest prize yet for John Moore. He won his final prep in fast time over a stubborn Time Warp like a horse who will be better for the effort; afterwards, John Moore commented that Werther was about 80% cranked. Looking for him to fire a top effort here and mow them down late.
#3 Poet’s Word put together a solid campaign in Europe this year for Sir Michael Stoute, and comes into this on a high note off a pair of rock solid 2nd place finishes in the Irish and UK Champions Stakes over the same distance. The wide gate is a bit of a concern, but he has never been better, and is slipping under the radar in the early betting.
#2 Neorealism is a tricky horse to evaluate. He won the QE2 here in the spring, when Joao Moreira made a perfectly timed early move into a bizarrely slow pace. The back class is there as well, as he has multiple top class wins in Japan. Current form is a question mark, however, as he enters off a dull effort in the Tenno Sho in Japan – was that just a prep, or a signal of declining form? Noriyuki Hori has won a ridiculous 5 of his last 7 races entered in Hong Kong, and Joao Moreira again takes the mount. Can’t ignore.
#9 Time Warp has been on an absolute tear since last June, as he progressed from Class 2 to giving Werther all he could handle in the run up to the HKIR. Though he hasn’t won yet this season, he has proven he belongs here with a 2 heart breaking second place finishes. He brings a high level of tactical speed, and encouragingly showed a rating dimension last out when a pace setter put him in a difficult tactical spot. That last effort also dispelled any doubts that he wants this distance. Could see him potentially carrying his speed all the way with a perfect trip, but has a big place chance at the minimum.