Romantic Warrior and James McDonald at Flemington
Romantic Warrior: Could be worth opposing

Hong Kong International Racing 2023 preview and tips | Wellington to show some boot


Graham Cunningham takes an in-depth look at the four Grade 1s that make up the Hong Kong International Racing at Sha Tin, live on Sky Sports Racing on Sunday.


Golden day ahead as stars align for Hong Kong’s flagship day

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There’s something about the build-up to a global racing Festival that can make you lose the run of things. Yes, watching horses in the morning is great fun and chatting to hopeful connections who know all about their star and little about the opposition helps the week tick along nicely.

But come weekend, the riddle resembles any other card in that punters want the right horse at the right price. You may be a regular File reader or maybe looking in just because Sunday’s LONGINES Hong Kong International Races contain four global G1 contests worth £12m.

Either way, Sunday’s features get under way at just after 6am on SSR so let’s hope the following hints prove valuable for a day that sees HK’s finest - Golden Sixty, Romantic Warrior and Lucky Sweynesse - taking on high-class rivals from Britain and Ireland with a powerful Japanese group thrown in for good measure.


LONGINES HONG KONG VASE (6.10 GMT)

Magic Man to get the party started

Lebensstil
Lebensstil

Hong Kong’s stayers are at a notably low ebb, while French raider Junko doesn’t move like a fast ground horse and the older horse challenge has been diluted by the absence of West Wind Blows and Shahryar.

And all the above leaves LEBENSSTIL, WARM HEART and ZEFFIRO as very much the trio to focus on. Zeffiro has thrived in strong G2 contests in Japan, quickening well to score under Joao Moreira in Tokyo last month, and there’s a fair case for saying he’s overpriced at 7-1 or bigger.

Warm Heart’s game G1 efforts at York, Longchamp and Santa Anita make her a prime player as she bids to give Aidan his fourth Vase success, especially if she gets first run in what shapes up as a sit-sprint affair, but LEBENSSTIL might just set this party off with a bang.

This colt is progressing fast after just six runs - he made smart rivals look ordinary in a Nakayama G2 last time out - and Moreira didn’t hold back in praising the three-year-old’s “stunning ability” before adding “there is a high possibility he will become a special horse.”

True, Joao tends to be a glass half full guy. But Lebensstil looks to be peaking at the perfect time and he tops the short list to assert late with Warm Heart and the under-rated Zaffiro making strong appeal as Quinella candidates.

To bet on Hong Kong racing via Betfair's Tote click here


LONGINES HONG KONG SPRINT (6.50 GMT)

Is it time to get Lucky?

Lucky Sweynesse gallops under Zac Purton this week (Alex Evers for HKJC)
Lucky Sweynesse gallops under Zac Purton this week (Alex Evers for HKJC)

The two options here are to go in strong on LUCKY SWEYNESSE at money on or seek longer-priced value and hope the world’s highest rated turf sprinter doesn’t bring his A game.

Zac Purton’s mount couldn’t bring that game when sent off at 1.9 in this race last year, caught up in more traffic than a Gloucester Road cabbie as WELLINGTON stormed home under Ryan Moore, but he was dominant in the first half of 2023 and put two short-priced defeats behind him by mastering Victor The Winner and Wellington in the G2 Jockey Club Sprint.

Victor looks sure to lead again, pressed by Japanese front runner Jasper Krone, while British raider Highfield Princess is quick enough to track them from gate 9.

Nothing this week would give me greater pleasure than to see John Quinn’s mare go close – and her fans will be shocked at how HK punters shun her - but European G1 sprint form seldom travels well to HK and this looks booked for the home team again.

Lucky Sweynesse has more in hand at his best than any of this year’s G1 jollies and might just be too good but he didn’t have much to spare last month and, given the big difference in prices, it might pay to take a chance on Wellington being ready to crash the Purton party again.

It’s hard to make a strong case for last year’s winner when you look at the way Lucky Sweynesse put him away in four big races last season and an ambitious trip to Royal Ascot under the care of Richard Gibson came to nothing when he banged his head in the stalls.

But Wellington looked in good heart on his first run for Kiwi handler Jamie Richards in the JC Sprint, travelling kindly for a long way and beaten just a length, not knocked about having been slightly short of room. He’s entitled to be sharper for that reappearance and, with blinkers fitted for the first time, he looks a small-stakes win and place alternative to the hot favourite.

To bet on Hong Kong racing via Betfair's Tote click here


LONGINES HONG KONG MILE (8.00 GMT)

Ageless Golden boy or vulnerable Golden oldie?

What price is the right price when an ageing champ returns from over seven months off the track from stall 14 of 14 over a turning mile against dangerous rivals from home and abroad?

Early signs suggest that HK’s three-time Horse of the Year Golden Sixty will be a shade of odds against to seal his third Mile success. There will be plenty of takers at that price and the romantic in me – yes, there is a heart in there somewhere – is rooting for him to steal the show for the tenth time at G1 level.

But, though the Golden Boy has been one of the most compelling horses on the planet for four years in a row, I think that what Formula 1 fan Vincent Ho describes as “turbo lag” might start to kick in if he’s asked to quicken once to offset a wide gate then again to assert in the final 150m.

Taking two against the favourite could be the value call here and BEAUTY ETERNAL and SERIFOS are the pair who take the eye.

Beauty Eternal limbers up for his HKIR date with Golden Sixty
Beauty Eternal limbers up for his HKIR date with Golden Sixty

Beauty Eternal’s progress through the HK ranks hasn’t been so dramatic as Golden Sixty’s but he’s three years younger with an international mark of 115 after his Jockey Club Mile win last month and the way he sealed that G2– doing just enough under Purton after travelling powerfully – gives a broad hint that he’s ready to produce another career best here.

The bare result of the Mile Championship at Kyoto last month gives Namur, Soul Rush and Danon The Kid the drop on Serifos but I very much doubt that’s a result to take at face value.

Serifos endured a torrid trip after a lengthy lay-off that day, racing handy and keenly out wide with little cover in a truly-run race that suited the holdup horses. His best previous efforts, including a decisive success in last year’s Mile Championship, are a much better guide to what he’s about and he’s capable of giving them all a shake at long odds if back to his best.

To bet on Hong Kong racing via Betfair's Tote click here


LONGINES HONG KONG CUP (8.40 GMT)

Warrior returns home with a different battle on the Horizon

Romantic Warrior wins at Sha Tin
Romantic Warrior romps in last year’s Cu

It’s not hard to envisage a highly charged moment in HK racing history here if age catches up on the old king Golden Sixty and his heir apparent Romantic Warrior seizes his crown forty minutes later by crushing a high-class global field just as he did in this race twelve months ago.

James McDonald has maximum faith in Danny Shum’s gelding, who has added a commanding second QEII Cup and a historic and very hard-earned Cox Plate to his list of G1 heists this year, and it looks like he might jump at around the same price (1.8) as when storming four and a half lengths clear in 2022.

But, as with Lucky Sweynesse and Golden Sixty, the case for him isn’t completely clear cut and in this case it’s because he’s back in action just six weeks after his Aussie adventure.

Time may show Romantic Warrior has thrived on a demanding schedule but some of HK’s best long-distance travellers have failed to to peak on their first run back home and this field contains several rivals – namely LUXEMBOURG, PROGNOSIS and HORIZON DORE - who won’t be slow to capitalise if the Warrior is feeling a shade battle weary.

The fact that Luxembourg is rated dead level with Sunday’s hot favourite on 123 shouldn’t be forgotten and the triple G1 winner ran right up to that number when pipped by stablemate Auguste Rodin in an Irish Champion Stakes that’s been boosted several times since.

Prognosis brings high-class Japanese form and the ultra-progressive French gelding Horizon Dore is a strong traveller with a turn of foot that might just lend itself well to Sha Tin’s slick surface. It goes against the grain to tip three in a race but the HK Tote makes it a perfectly viable ploy if a raging favourite is vulnerable and this might just be one such case.

Sunday’s HKIR Selections

  • 6.10: Lebensstil/Zeffiro
  • 6.50: Wellington (EW)
  • 8.00: Beauty Eternal/Serifos
  • 8.40: Luxembourg/Prognosis/Horizon Dore

To bet on Hong Kong racing via Betfair's Tote click here


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