The countdown to the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races is on, after two of the biggest weeks on the world racing calendar unearthed a plethora of potential candidates for the Turf World Championships at Sha Tin on 11 December.

With the fields to be announced for the four Group 1 features – the HK$25 million LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m), the HK$23 million LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m), the HK$18.5 million LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and the HK$16.5 million LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) – on 23 November, the list of potential visitors is starting to become clearer, while the home team is gearing up for the showcase meeting on the local calendar.

Breeders’ Cup

Highland Reel and Seamie Heffernan storm to Breeders' Cup Turf victory Copyright Eclipse Sportswire / Breeders' Cup Photos

Highland Reel and Seamie Heffernan storm to Breeders’ Cup Turf victory
Copyright Eclipse Sportswire / Breeders’ Cup Photos

The biggest two days of the American racing year were headlined by some memorable and heart-stopping clashes, and there were also plenty of HKIR connotations going forward.

There were flashbacks to the 2015 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase as last year’s one-two, Highland Reel and Flintshire, repeated their antics at Santa Anita to quinella the G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf (2414m). Coolmore iron horse Highland Reel shot straight to the lead under an enterprising front-running ride from Seamie Heffernan, who upped the ante mid-race and opened up a 10-length break before holding off Flintshire by almost two lengths. Arc-winning stablemate Found finished a further two lengths away in third.

It has been a busy season for Highland Reel, who has added the G1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2414m) and the Turf to his record, as well as finishing second to Found in the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (2400m), in eight starts since his Vase triumph. And post-race, trainer Aidan O’Brien suggested a return to Asia was likely, with a second tilt at the Vase initially favoured over the G1 Japan Cup (2400m).

Flintshire, who won the 2014 Vase for Andre Fabre before his runner-up finish last year, was transferred stateside to the barn of Chad Brown for the 2016 racing season. Connections confirmed after the race that the Turf would be his swansong, as it was for tough mare Found, who had been touted as a potential LONGINES Hong Kong Cup contender pre-race but has since been retired.

Also entered for Hong Kong among the beaten brigade in the Turf were Ectot (eighth) and Mondialiste (last), who struggled to see out the mile and a half and could drop back either for the Cup or the Mile.

Perhaps the most exciting development from an American perspective came with the news that arguably the best turf horse in the United States, champion mare Tepin, is under strong consideration for the Mile.

Mark Casse’s Tepin, who defeated Europe’s best older milers in the G1 Queen Anne Stakes (1609m) at Royal Ascot earlier this year, quickened strongly but could not reel in Bill Mott-trained Tourist.

Still, Casse and owner Robert Masterson indicated that the five-year-old mare would stay in training in 2017 and that her season may not be over yet, with the Hong Kong Mile under “strong consideration”.

Behind Tepin, Hong Kong entrants included Miss Temple City (fifth), Limato (sixth) and Alice Springs (10th).

Last year’s American representation at the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races came in the Sprint with Mongolian Saturday and Green Mask, and Christophe Clement-trained Pure Sensation remains a possibility to follow in their footsteps after finishing a game third in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (1308m) over Santa Anita’s downhill sprint course.

Also among the beaten runners was last year’s Hong Kong Cup runner-up Nuovo Record, who finished 11th to Queen’s Trust in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (2012m). Trainer Makoto Saito stated subsequently that the daughter of Heart’s Cry a return to Hong Kong is still possible.

Melbourne Cup Carnival

The world’s richest handicap, the G1 Melbourne Cup (3200m), has produced LONGINES Hong Kong Vase winners like Dunaden and Red Cadeaux in recent years, and once again this year’s Cup could produce a number of Vase runners.

Among those in contention are Tony Martin’s Heartbreak City, so game in second under Hong Kong Champion Jockey Joao Moreira, as well as 10th-placed Big Orange.

Melbourne Cup winner Almandin is not among the entries.

Tenno Sho (Autumn)

Japan’s premier race over 2000m, the G1 Tenno Sho (Autumn) looked a top Hong Kong trial on paper, with the winners of the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup in A Shin Hikari and the LONGINES Hong Kong Mile in Maurice headlining a star-studded cast. Also among runners was G1 Dubai Turf winner Real Steel, G1 Yasuda Kinen winner Logotype, last year’s victor Lovely Day and one-time Hong Kong visitors Staphanos and Satono Crown.

Maurice’s comfortable victory under Ryan Moore now has him on a path towards ending his racing career at the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races, either in the Cup or the Mile, as he searches for his third victory at the highest level at Sha Tin.

A Shin Hikari disappointed, weakening tamely after leading to finish 12th. However, the flashy grey also ran below par in last year’s Tenno Sho a start before winning the Hong Kong Cup, and will aim for back-to-back Cups at Sha Tin in what is also likely to be his final race start.

Fifth-placed Logotype has been locked in for the Hong Kong Mile by trainer Tsuyoshi Tanaka, while Lovely Day, who finished ninth, is also in contention. Lovely Day finished fourth as favourite in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2000m) behind Werther in April.

On the home front

The final chance for local gallopers to make the HKIR features comes on 20 November, three days before the fields are announced, with three Group 2 trial races – the G2 LONGINES Jockey Club Cup (2000m), the G2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile (1600m) and the G2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint (1200m).

Entries were taken for the three races on Monday (7 November), with the most intriguing entrant being 2014 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile winner Able Friend in the Jockey Club Sprint.

Able Friend remains Hong Kong’s highest rated horse domestically, his local mark of 138 placing him 10 rating points clear of any other Sha Tin-trained galloper. However, he has not raced since an injury-affected third to Maurice in last year’s LONGINES Hong Kong Mile. His run in the Jockey Club Sprint will decide if he presses on to the Sprint or the Mile on 11 December, with the giant son of Shamardal holding entries for both features.

In his first-up run, he is set to tackle the last two winners of the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint in Aerovelocity and Peniaphobia, as well emerging young guns Lucky Bubbles and Amazing Kids.

Stablemate Rapper Dragon headlines 12 entries for the Jockey Club Mile as the four-year-old prepares for the first start of an ambitious campaign aimed at international glory in December before taking on his own age group on the road to the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) early next year.

Rapper Dragon was a raceday withdrawal from the G2 Oriental Watch 55th Anniversary Sha Tin Trophy (Handicap) on 23 October due to lameness, but trainer John Moore believes he’s still on track for the Hong Kong Cup.

The Jockey Club Cup features three G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2000m) winners in Designs On Rome and Blazing Speed, who also ran a surprise quinella in the Sha Tin Trophy last time out, and the returning Military Attack, who is likely embarking on his final campaign.