Hong Kong’s showcase racing event of the year gets under way at Sha Tin on Sunday, highlighted by the four featured Longines Hong Kong International Races (HKIR).
With prize money around £8.65m, an estimated 80,000 racing-mad spectators and over £130m bet into the tote pool, it’s no wonder Hong Kong markets the day as ‘the greatest show on turf’.
There is plenty of European interest in the event, with history-making trainer Aidan O’Brien leading the way.
O’Brien has made a relatively small impact on HKIR in the last 15 years, saddling 13 runners, with his highlights being Highland Reel winning the Hong Kong Vase back in 2015 and finishing runner-up last year.
O’Brien, who tackles three of the four HKIR races with just a handful of runners, will surely be hoping his flagship challenger Highland Reel will bow out of racing with his second victory in the Hong Kong Vase (6.00am).
For many, the highlight of the race will be the rematch between Highland Reel and his Breeders’ Cup Turf conqueror, the Andre Fabre-trained Talismanic.
Both are rated 8lbs clear of their rivals on official ratings.
Local horses have a poor record in this contest, with long shot Dominant, winner in 2013, being their only success since 1998.
Interestingly, the jockey of Dominant, Zac Purton, is aboard GOLD MOUNT this year - the locals’ main hope of keeping the prize at home.
This former Alan King inmate was named Primitivo when trained in the UK, and is now in the care of Tony Cruz who is the most successful trainer in HKIR history, with eight winners in total.
Gold Mount won the 2016 King George V Handicap over 1m4f at Royal Ascot, and was an ‘eye-catcher’ when a strong finisher in the Group Two Jockey Club Cup over 1m2f three weeks ago.
He appeals as an each-way investment.
In the same race, don’t ignore the chances of long-shot TIBERIAN.
This French challenger has beaten the strongly fancied Talismanic twice already this season.
Tiberian broke from stall 22 of 23 in the Melbourne Cup, and champion jockey Olivier Peslier was having his first ride in Australia, an unhelpful combination when finishing a creditable seventh in the country’s flagship race.
His track work this week at Sha Tin has been visually impressive, leading up to the Hong Kong Vase.
It has been 13 years since a horse trained outside of Hong Kong or Japan has won the Hong Kong Mile (7.50am).
Local horses have won 10 of the past 11 editions of the race, and they will be fancied to keep the trophy and £2.3m in prize money on home soil again.
Hong Kong Mile champion BEAUTY ONLY will be attempting to be only the second repeat winner in the history of the race.
The six-year-old provided encouraging signs that he is about to peak again when finishing fourth in the Jockey Club Mile recently.
Jockey Zac Purton was slightly pessimistic this week, reckoning he may still be ‘undercooked’ and needing another 10 days to be at his best.
Maybe Purton is under playing his chances, as I watched a highly-impressive track-work gallop that Beauty Only produced on Tuesday morning.
Jockey Joao Moreira has opted to ride Seasons Bloom, suggesting he could be the main danger.
POINTERS - SUNDAY
Gold Mount e/w 6.00am Sha Tin
Tiberian e/w 6.00am Sha Tin
Beauty Only 7.50am Sha Tin