We take a look at a strong European team in Hong Kong for the highly-valuable HKIR at Sha Tin on Sunday, with Highfield Princess, Luxembourg and Warm Heart amongst the internationals.
Junko has become a bit of a globetrotter for Andre Fabre so it’s not too much of a surprise to see him take his chance out in Hong Kong. Beaten a head by Anmaat in the Prix Dollar in his best run at three, his four-year-old campaign has taken him from Meydan to Munich, with plenty of domestic races taken in in between. His best run this year was his last, a Group 1 victory in the Grosser Allianz Preis von Bayern at Munich, the small field playing to his strengths as he made all to win with something to spare. Considered an outsider at around 16/1 and that’s fair, given he has a bit to find on the formbook and he has looked at home on much softer ground than he’ll get on Sunday.
Simon & Ed Crisford’s West Wind Blows enjoyed his stint in Australia and this looks the perfect race for him to take in on the way home. The son of Teofilo didn’t have a bad summer in the UK by any means, finishing third behind Paddington in the Coral-Eclipse and denied by a short head when trying to justify odds-on favouritism in a Group 3 at Windsor. Earlier in the summer he won at that level in France and he took his form to a higher plane in Australia, finishing second to Gold Trip in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes at Flemington, before he was second to subsequent Melbourne Cup winner Without A Fight in the Caulfield Cup. He wasn’t disgraced when ninth in a bunched finish back at Flemington over 10 furlongs after that, but a good gallop over 1m4f probably suits him better.
Bar a below-par run in the Irish Oaks on soft ground that didn’t seem to suit, Warm Heart has improved all year long and she’s the most interesting European contender in the Hong Kong Vase. Trainer Aidan O’Brien has won this race three times before with Highland Reel (x2) and Mogul, so it looks significant he’s targeted this filly at the race on the back of a superb run in the Filly & Mares Turf at the Breeders’ Cup. The 10-furlong trip did for her that day against the speedier Inspiral, but she went down on her sword as she glided around Santa Anita on the fast ground. The daughter of Galileo is well proven over 1m4f having won the Ribblesdale, Yorkshire Oaks and Prix Vermeille during a stellar season, so she demands the utmost respect in this.
I remember interviewing John Quinn at the start of the 2022 season, before Highfield Princess had won a Group 1 sprint. Even then he was eyeing top-class international racing for her, including this race, saying ‘there’s a very good catalogue of races for her at the back end of the year’ so you could draw the conclusion that this has been in the back of his mind for a very long time. The wonderful mare is six now and she has four Group 1 sprint victories on her CV, her latest, gained last time out in the Prix de l’Abbaye, a most satisfying success for her trainer on the back of a run of five consecutive defeats at the highest level. Six furlongs on fast ground on a speed track is well within her compass, and though she has a local hero to take down in Lucky Sweynesse, her small sex allowance will help and she looks a nice each-way bet against him, even if it’s hard to argue she has been at her absolute best at any point this year (except maybe Goodwood).
A length behind Highfield Princess in the Abbaye was Aidan O’Brien’s Aesop’s Fables and the Ballydoyle maestro is getting closer to finding the key to the son of No Nay Never. The bare facts are this horse is on a losing run of 10 since winning his first two career starts, but having been tried over various trips O’Brien has settled on him being a sprinter. Blinkers have made a difference, the headgear helping him to third in the Abbaye and Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, but with both of those races being over five furlongs it is intriguing to now see how he will get on in the headgear over six. It could be the making of him, but he hasn’t got the natural speed of Highfield Princess and reversing the Longchamp form with her will be tough.
The Hong Kong Mile looks all about a very strong home team in Golden Sixty and California Spangle and it will be tough for the two European-trained outsiders to get involved. Having said that, O’Brien’s Cairo is lightly-raced enough to respect his chance as, in direct contrast to his Irish 2000 Guineas conqueror Paddington, he has hardly been seen since finishing second in the Classic back in May. Indeed, he returned from 148 days off the track last time out at Leopardstown, kicking off the home turn in the lead in heavy ground only for him to tire into third late on. Any holes in his fitness will have been brutally exposed that day, but if he comes on for it – and the son of Quality Road promises to be suited by a faster surface – he could be an each-way player, for all that it seems unlikely he can beat the Hong Kong duo.
Joining Junko on the plane from France is stablemate Tribalist who has been given the ‘patient treatment’ by Andre Fabre. The son of Farhh had a busy time of things at three and twice tried his hand at the top level – when third in the French 2000 Guineas and eighth in the Prix Jean Prat – that latter defeat a cue for his handler to build him back up gently before his next crack at a Group 1. So, here we are, eight starts later, following a productive 2023 that has seen this horse win four times from five goes at Listed, Group 3 and Group 2 level. His only defeat came on the back of a four-month break, but a spin around Saint-Cloud in mid-November means he ran only three weeks ago, meaning we are in no excuses territory ahead of his return to Group 1 company. He looks in a good place, but the main problem for him here is that very strong home contingent.
While O’Brien has won the Hong Kong Vase on three occasions he has never won the Hong Kong Cup, but he is really going for it this year with three-time Group 1 winner Luxembourg rolling into town. It was unfortunate that the son of Camelot missed out on having a crack at King Of Steel in the Champion Stakes thanks to a late setback, but Ascot’s loss is Sha Tin’s gain and he adds a certain lustre to the 10-furlong event on Sunday given his form this season ties in closely with Mostahdaf and Auguste Rodin, who cleaned up between them over middle distances in Europe and beyond this year. Luxembourg ran a cracker in second from the front in the Irish Champion Stakes when last seen and given his stamina over even further is proven it can be presumed that he’ll be ridden aggressively in his bid to beat HK and Cox Plate hero, Romantic Warrior.
One horse who did make the Champion Stakes at Ascot was Horizon Dore for French trainer Patrice Cottier and he was well-fancied for the prize, going off 4/1 on the back of a couple of Longchamp victories at a slightly lower level. He ran well in third, but he was outstayed in the softer ground and it would be no surprise to see this strong traveller take his form to a new level on conditions that should suit him perfectly at Sha Tin. He probably has to improve to trouble either Romantic Warrior or Luxembourg, but he could do, and he completes what is undoubtedly a high-class European team for the HKIR on Sunday.
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