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2012 Hong Kong International Races – A Preview of the Features

December 9, 2012

Today marks the final major meeting of the year worldwide, the Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin.

I’m a firm believer these are as close to a world championships as we have in racing. The Breeders’ Cup meeting is billed as the world championships of racing, but given the lack of representation from around the world, it is a shallow claim.

The only meeting I believe can match it in terms of international participation is the Dubai World Cup meeting, which is held at the wrong time of the year for many horses from Europe and North America.

But there is something special about the Hong Kong meeting, something significant which gives it prominence.

I’m disappointed I can’t be there this year, but I’m already making plans to get to my first Hong Kong International Races in 2013.

If you are tweeting about the races this afternoon, make sure to include the hashtag #HKIR.

I’d also recommend following the guys from the South China Morning Post (@SCMPRacingPost) – Alan Aitken (@chapeauxx) and Michael Cox (@KemblaCoxy) are the best source of Hong Kong news and will have late mail from the mounting yard.

Here is my look at the four big races on the card today.

GROUP 1 HONG KONG VASE (2400m) – 5:00pm ADST

Always a nice little race, which has gained more attention in Australia in recent years with the likes of Americain, Dunaden and Red Cadeaux all progressing from the Melbourne Cup to the Hong Kong Vase. This year features a fairly open field.

He’s had a long season, but I keep coming back to JOSHUA TREE. He has kept stepping up to the mark over the last few months. In July he ran second to Melbourne Cup runner up Fiorente (who he’d later beat home comfortably in the Prix Foy) – third that day was Red Cadeaux. He then won the Prix Kergorlay, defeating Brigantin, Shahwardi and Americain among others. He was third to Orfevre in the Prix Foy (a neck behind Meandre) before winning the Canadian International. The long season is a concern, but he’s consistent and I think he’ll be suited to the tight track at Sha Tin – sometimes a pitfall for the Europeans. I have him on top.

DUNADEN won this race last year and his Caulfield Cup win under 58kg probably entitles him to favouritism here – especially with the withdrawal of Sea Moon. He perhaps showed last start that he is slightly one-dimensional, in that he is a far superior horse when there is a solid pace. He doesn’t have the tactical versatility to adapt to a slow pace. This was also seen in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. That said, he should get conditions to suit here so he’s the one to beat.

I think RED CADEAUX is a better horse than he was last year, when he ran third. His Melbourne Cup run was very good off a dawdling pace, while he was just fair in the Japan Cup. That said, I reckon he’ll be primed for Hong Kong so he’s a definite chance.

And I think if MEANDRE’s midfield effort in the Arc is forgotten, then he ranks highly.

5 – JOSHUA TREE
2 – DUNADEN
6 – RED CADEAUX
3 – MEANDRE

GROUP 1 HONG KONG SPRINT (1200m) – 5:40pm ADST

Incredibly, Australia hasn’t won the Sprint since Falvelon won the race twice in 2000 and 2001. That’s quite amazing, given the calibre of horses that have represented Australia – the likes of Miss Andretti, Apache Cat, Scenic Blast and All Silent failed. We probably would have won the race in 2006, except Takeover Target was a controversial scratching on the morning of the race.

However, the campaigns undertaken by the four Australian failures may help to analyse Sea Siren’s chances.

Miss Andretti ran 10th in 2007. She was coming off two arduous battles with Gold Edition in Melbourne, which followed her travels to Royal Ascot. It was a tough year, and Hong Kong was probably one step too far.

Apache Cat ran third in 2008, hardly a failure (although he was an odds on favourite). He only had two runs in the spring – at Flemington and Perth’s Ascot – before the Hong Kong Sprint. However, he ran seventh in 2009. He had four starts in Melbourne during the spring (the Manikato, the Schillaci, the Moir and the Patinack Farm), which came off the back of a long campaign through the autumn and winter.

All Silent finished eighth in 2009. He seemed to have the right type of preparation – two runs at Flemington following an autumn campaign – but perhaps his issues were more ingrained. He was sent home from Hong Kong as a younger horse because he didn’t adapt to the environment, so perhaps there were other reasons for his failure.

Scenic Blast, who finished last in 2009, bled in that race. But he was coming off a failure in Japan, hardly an ideal lead up.

What is clear is that the race musn’t be an afterthought – it must be the culmination of a campaign. I don’t think there’s been an Australian candidate in recent years who has had the perfect campaign aimed at the Hong Kong Sprint, but if there is one who gets close, it is Sea Siren. She is following a very similar path to Apache Cat in 2008.

Is Sea Siren as good as Apache Cat? I doubt it. But her whole campaign has been planned with Hong Kong in mind, and her two runs in Melbourne were hardly arduous. It’s easy to forget, Apache Cat had that stirring Winterbottom Stakes duel with Takeover Target before the Hong Kong Sprint. Sea Siren has not had a test like that this campaign.

She’ll love the tight turns of Sha Tin, and from all reports she has settled in well to Hong Kong – largely thanks to the company of Alcopop.

It may be long-winded, but for the reasons above, I’m putting SEA SIREN on top to fly the Australian flag.

Now to find the minor placegetters. Interestingly, since Falvelon won the race in 2001, every winner bar one – South Africa’s J J The Jet Plane in 2010 – has been a local. But, more importantly, every local winner since 2001 except Lucky Nine (who was bred in Ireland) has been Australian-bred.

That’s potentially a fact in favour of TIME AFTER TIME, who I was keen on as the main danger to Sea Siren anyway. His run in the primary lead up for the locals, the Jockey Club Sprint, was simply stunning – he came from near last to beat all bar Lucky Nine. Considering the winner had a pretty easy run in transit, one off the fence, I think Time After Time is more than capable of turning the tables. He’s incredibly consistent, so he’s certain to be somewhere around the mark.

CERISE CHERRY did well in the Jockey Club Sprint, coming from a horror draw to finish just behind the placegetters. He’ll probably be able to settle closer, which could make all the difference. He’s still improving, so he is to be considered.

And obviously LUCKY NINE must be considered some sort of hope, given his win last year as well as his win in the Jockey Club Sprint.

Quite clearly, I expect the locals to win it if Sea Siren can’t emerge victorious.

11 – SEA SIREN
7 – TIME AFTER TIME
9 – CERISE CHERRY
1 – LUCKY NINE

GROUP 1 HONG KONG MILE (1600m) – 6:50pm ADST

This race has changed complexion quite quickly. I was all ready to make Ambitious Dragon my best bet across the four features, but he’s had a setback the last 48 hours. While he’s been passed fit by the Hong Kong Jockey Club vet, I’m still wary. I never like to see this happen on the eve of a big race, therefore I’ve relegated him.

The obvious selection is Glorious Days, but I’m quite shocked at the price they are offering about GRAND PRIX BOSS. He’s a gun Japanese miler who has returned to form after a few lacklustre runs. He’ll be hitting the line hard late, and I reckon he’s good value at his current quote.

There’s not a whole lot between GLORIOUS DAYS and AMBITIOUS DRAGON. Once again, if Ambitious Dragon hadn’t had the setback, I would have had him clearly on top, but after the setback I’ll put Glorious Days slightly ahead of Ambitious Dragon.

He’s been a gun horse in Hong Kong, Glorious Days, his only failure coming when he travelled to Japan for the Yasuda Kinen. It was a strong win last start against Ambitious Dragon in the Jockey Club Mile, and he’ll be primed here.

Ambitious Dragon, on his day, is one of the best gallopers I’ve seen in Hong Kong. He’s a freak. The problem is, it’s not his day overly often. I thought he’d have everything to suit here, but I’m very wary after the setback.

Next best is XTENSION, who always seems to improve second up. He wasn’t bad in the Jockey Club Mile, and he’s got good ability when right.

Of the four races, this is the race I’m probably happy just to watch.

6 – GRAND PRIX BOSS
3 – GLORIOUS DAYS
1 – AMBITIOUS DRAGON
2 – XTENSION

GROUP 1 HONG KONG CUP (2000m) – 7:30pm ADST

The feature event is the Hong Kong Cup, which will get more Australian attention due to the presence of Alcopop. Only one Australian-trained horse has won the Hong Kong Cup – that being State Taj in 1994 – while the last Australian-trained runner in the race was Growl in 2006. He finished second-last to the French mare Pride.

It’s quite amazing to see Alcopop there – if you’d told us in late September that he would be invited to run, I know I would have laughed at you. He was injury-prone, he’d only won two races in three years (both at Listed level – the Kilmore Cup and the Penny Edition Stakes) and he was out of form. He’d run seventh in the Spring Stakes, eighth in the Penny Edition Stakes, ninth in the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes and seventh in the JRA Cup (behind the likes of Bianmick, Dance With Her, Sabrage and Miss Artistic). Definitely not Hong Kong Cup form!

But all of a sudden, he turned his form around – he was a game second to Ocean Park in the Caulfield Stakes, he beat all bar Dunaden in the Caulfield Cup – a mighty effort – then he finally broke his Group 1 maiden with a win in the Mackinnon Stakes. On those last three runs, he definitely deserves his spot here. It’s a reminder of the quirks of form analysis!

We’ll get back to Alcopop soon. This is a tough race to analyse, with so many different formlines coming together. The scratching of Cirrus des Aigles has thrown a spanner in the works, because he was lengths ahead of this field on class (although he’d failed at every attempt at Sha Tin).

If you forget the last run of SAONOIS, who went absolutely dreadful in the Arc, then he can win here. An impressive winner of the Prix du Jockey Club this year, he looks a nice middle distance type. I’m not overly convinced about the European three year olds this year, but he’s done well enough in France to suggest he can be a player here.

CALIFORNIA MEMORY won this race last year, but had disappointed ever since until a last start win in the Jockey Club Cup. He’s hitting form at the right time and he’s a proven commodity. Will start favourite in an open race.

Okay, back to ALCOPOP. I think he’s in with a chance, especially with Cirrus des Aigles out. As stated before, his last three starts have been pretty good. Whether it is good enough for this race, I’m not sure, but he deserves his chance. And he comes off a last start win, which doesn’t apply to many in this field. It would be one of the great stories if he were to win. The bush trainer from South Australia, the written-off gelding, the underdogs. It would be quite something! I’ll be cheering him.

My fourth selection is the antithesis of the Alcopop story – CARLTON HOUSE is owned by Her Majesty The Queen and trained by Sir Michael Stoute (he is set to join Gai Waterhouse after today’s race). No bush trainers or owners here! He deserves to go in purely on his second to So You Think in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot. His record at 2000m is very good and he should be well suited here.

Definitely hoping for an Australian win!

10 – SAONOIS
2 – CALIFORNIA MEMORY
4 – ALCOPOP
3 – CARLTON HOUSE

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