The British and Irish are not short of talent at the Hong Kong International Races and they are represented in all four of the big races. The first of the four is the Hong Kong Vase, run over a mile and a half, it is worth just shy of £780,000. Last year's winner Flintshire is back to defend his crown but he will come up against some formidable opponents this year, including the British and Irish pair of Highland Reel and Cannock Chase.
Highland Reel was third in the Cox Plate in Australia last time out, but had previously won the Secretariat Stakes over the pond. He seems to take International racing in his stride. If he were to succeed, he would be the first winner for Aiden O'Brien in Hong Kong. He's available at around 6/1 which seems a fair price, but I would think there are stronger horses in the field. Even with the bonus of Ryan Moore on board, he may end up squeezed out.
Cannock Chase for Sir Michael Stoute has to be in with a chance after winning the Canadian International last time out. He's another one who seems to thrive on International racing. This is his optimum trip and I would expect a bold showing from him.
The main dangers from the rest of the field include the unexposed three-year-old Ming Dynasty, who will have to prove he is effective on fast ground. His trainer Mikel Delzangles won the Vase in 2011 with Dunaden. Cirrus Des Aigles makes his sixth start in the HKIR, his last start in the Vase was in 2009 when finishing fifth. It's possible that age is catching up with him and I would think he will be vulnerable to the younger legs here.
Local chances include Dominant, who ran an eye catching fifth in the Jockey Club Cup over 2,000m last time out. It looked the ideal prep run and having won this race in 2013, he looks primed for a big run. He was also second over course and distance in a Group One event back in May. Helene Happy Star also ran a good prep race when fourth in the same race. Previously known as Barley Mow in England, he won the Newmarket Stakes for Richard Hannon. Since switching to John Moore he has won a Group Three over this course and distance. He's another that could be set for a big run here.
It's difficult to look past Flintshire. If he performs to his best he will be hard to beat. Second in the Arc on his last start, he is still right at the top of his game. He isn't without challengers though and Cannock Chase and Dominant could be the ones to chase him home. Expect a very close finish in this.
— Harriet (@HattieLFuller) December 8, 2015
Flintshire, She Tin track work, December 8th, 2015
1. Flintshire (2/1), 2. Cannock Chase (7/1), 3. Dominant (16/1)
Next up is the Hong Kong Sprint, which looks a fascinating race. Sole Power represents the British team, but I would think the crown will go elsewhere.
Straight Girl looks set for a big run. Third in the race last year at big odds, she won't be going off that big this year. Currently available around 7/1 in the English markets, the mare has a massive chance once again. She's been twice a Group One winner this year already and won the Sprinters Stakes over this trip in October. She comes here in good form and will be hard to beat. Gold-Fun and Peniaphobia look to be her strongest challengers.
Gold-Fun was second in the last two runnings of the Hong Kong Mile, but since dropping down to the sprint distances has found a new lease of life. Peniaphobia was second in the race last year, but was more recently behind Sole Power in March. He has improved on both of his runs this preparation and, if riding him to his strengths, he could be a big danger.
We know what Sole Power is capable of but he has never won over here. This will be his fourth attempt at the race and I would expect him to put in a solid performance once again.
Sole Power, She Tin track work, December 8th, 2015
Mongolian Saturday and Green Mask represent the Americans, although they have never won the sprint, with their best finish being second. Since being taken off Lasix, Mongolian Saturday has seriously improved, culminating in him winning the Breeders Cup Sprint. This will be a lot tougher and I'm not entirely convinced.
Others to mention who could play a part are Lucky Nine, who was the 2011 winner of the race and ran well in the local prep run behind Gold-Fun. One who catches my eye at a huge price is Strathmore who is the most progressive horse in the field. Having won two handicaps earlier in the season, he was pitched in at Group level and finished a far from disgraced sixth being Gold-Fun. He was hampered though and most likely would've been closer at the finish. With that in mind I'd be happy to back him each way.
Avoiding the top two in the market is hard, but to find some value in the race that could turn into a bit of a lottery, I'm going to avoid putting them up and instead go with my gut instincts.
1. Straight Girl (7/1), 2. Sole Power (14/1), 3. Strathmore (50/1)
The Hong Kong Mile is an absolute belter, if I say so myself. The two horses at the top of the market, reigning champion Able Friend (5/4) and Maurice (2/1) are very short.
There is definitely value to be had in this race and it may be worth looking to David O'Meara's hope Mondialiste. The five-year-old has thrived overseas and ran a huge race when a fast finishing second at the Breeders Cup. It gave the impression that there is a lot more to come from him and for that reason I just have to back him. He will be right at home in Sha Tin too, with conditions to suit.
Able Friend wasn't at his best in the local prep race and I would have reservations touching him at that short a price.
Maurice has been Japan's star this year, winning two of Japan's most prestigious Group One mile races. He's an unbeaten four year old and has a big chance here, but I'm more interested in another of the Japanese horses. Danon Platina won the Group One Futurity Stakes over this trip last year, and with just four runs under his belt the three-year-old has a lot of potential. He's only had two starts over a mile and has won them both. I'd much rather be siding with him than the shorties at the head of the market in this race.
Toormore also represents the British contingent, but I often find that he comes up short at the top level and I have a feeling he will be outclassed here.
The last one to mention for me is Contentment, who had his first start in Group company last time out and finished a battling second ahead of Able Friend. He's available at a nice price and I wouldn't be surprised if there was more improvement from him. He could easily play a part here.
1. Mondialiste (12/1), 2. Danon Platina (16/1), 3. Contentment (14/1)
The final event is none other than the Hong Kong Cup, in which Free Eagle is the only Irish contender. The four-year-old will be having his last start before going off to stud and is very lightly raced. After his victory at Royal Ascot, he was hampered in the Irish Champion Stakes, before finding the Arc trip just too far on his last start. The drop back in trip will suit him and he has a very big chance in this. He is clearly a high class horse and I really fancy him here, as he'll get his ground and the perfect trip.
— Harriet (@HattieLFuller) December 8, 2015
Free Eagle, She Tin track work, December 8th, 2015
Designs On Rome, Military Attack and Criterion were the first three home last year and they all line up again. After an operation Designs on Rome ran an eye catching race on his first run back and he has a great chance of defending his crown here. Military Attack won the local prep race and will be a strong force, as will Criterion who has put in some solid performances in Australia including a third in the Melbourne Cup.
Beauty Only caught the eye in the local prep race finishing third, just under a length behind Military Attack. It was a tight finish and the four-year-old is unexposed at this trip, with just two starts in his career. Last time out was a career best, but there's nothing to say he can't find further improvement here with age on his side against some of the older horses.
This will be a cracking end to the International races and we are in for a real treat. I just hope all the horses run to their best form and we will be witnessing some of the best racing the world has to offer.
1. Designs On Rome (6/1), 2. Free Eagle (4/1), 3. Beauty Only (16/1)