Live on Sky Thoroughbred Central, Sha Tin Racecourse hosts an incredible HK$83 million seasonal showpiece on Sunday with two highly popular previous winners and rivals, Able Friend and Maurice, looking to repeat previous glories at the spectacular Longines Hong Kong International Race meeting.
The HK$23 million Longines Hong Kong Mile has established itself as one of the world’s leading G1 mile races and Able Friend would prove an ever popular winner if the seven-year-old is able to reclaim the crown he lost to the brilliant Maurice last season.
With Maurice heading to the Hong Kong Cup on Sunday, Able Friend has a great opportunity to regain the race he won in 2014 in such brilliant style. As an eight-time course and distance winner, the 2015 Hong Kong Horse of the Year has a brilliant record here and boasts 12 wins from 21 starts in his Hong Kong career. Four times a G1 winner, Able Friend lost his title to Maurice in this race last year but was later found to have injured an off-fore tendon. Trainer John Moore has taken his time with the seven-year-old who returned from an 11-month lay-off with a highly creditable fourth in the G2 Jockey Club Sprint last month. He will be reunited with regular partner ‘The Magic Man’ Joao Moreira and the combination would be hugely popular winners.
Meanwhile Maurice heads to Sunday’s showpiece, the HK$25 million Hong Kong Cup, and heads an incredibly strong Japanese contingent. With HK$14.25 million going to the winner, the 30th running of the Longines Hong Kong Cup is the richest race in Hong Kong and the centrepiece of a fantastic afternoon’s racing. The host country leads the way with nine previous winners, however following Japanese success last year they will face even stiffer opposition this time around. Maurice leads the way for Japan and the 2015 JRA Horse of the Year heads here in supreme form having won the G1 Tenno Sho Autumn at the end of October in highly impressive fashion and with Ryan Moore once again booked to ride looks sure to be sent off a warm favourite. The son of Screen Hero was unbeaten in six starts last season including four times in G1 company and was a fine winner of the Longines Hong Kong Mile on this card. The five-year-old can sit just behind the speed or in mid-division and looks set to be tough to beat at a track that he is unbeaten in two starts at the highest level.
The main opposition may well come from last year’s winner and Maurice’s compatriot A Shin Hikari. At his very best A Shin Hikari can look unbeatable as he did when demolishing a high-class field in the G1 Prix d’Ispahan at Chantilly in May. Subsequent well below-par defeats in the G1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Tenno Sho Autumn show how inconsistent he can be, however it’s worth noting that he suffered a similar defeat last season in Tokyo before heading here and if back to his very best this front-runner who possesses a high cruising speed can be very hard to live with.
Lovely Day, Queens Ring and Staphanos complete the Japanese challenge and all hold solid credentials. The latter is probably the best of them as despite not having won since a G3 victory over two years ago, the son of Deep Impact was a creditable third when staying on behind Maurice in the Tenno Sho Autumn last start. Lovely Day will be popular with Australian punters with Hugh Bowman set to take the ride and despite being well beaten behind Maurice last start is a solid G1 performer at best. Queens Ring rounds off the Japanese challenge and the four-year-old mare has been highly progressive against her own sex this campaign and heads here off the back of a G1 win in Japan’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup. Against the males this will undoubtedly be tougher but she remains open to plenty of improvement as she bids to become the sixth female to win this rich prize.
The Longines Hong Kong Cup and Hong Kong Mile are live on Sky Thoroughbred Central and Sky Racing 1 on Sunday in what will be a brilliant afternoon’s racing.