JAPANESE contenders make up nearly half of this year’s G1 Longines Hong Kong Cup over 2000m at Sha-Tin on Sunday.
Last year’s winner A Shin Hikari, Japan’s 2015 Horse of the Year Maurice, top-class filly Queens Ring, multiple G1 winner Lovely Day, and the ever persistent Staphanos are all gunning to take the Cup back across the Japan Sea.
The Cup has a lot of meaning with the Japanese since it was one of the first major international events won by a Japanese-trained horse, Fujiyama Kenzan in 1995. They have won the race three other times with Midnight Bet in 1998, Agnes Digital in 2001, and of course A Shin Hikari last year. The sheer number of entries alone proves Japan’s desire to claim the Cup for its own yet again.
To add to the drama, two of the five runners will be making their final career appearance; A Shin Hikari, the enigmatic star, and Maurice, the imposing champion.
Ryan Moore rode Maurice in to his most recent G1 victory and will be in the irons again. He said: “I think that 2000m at Tokyo is far more challenging than the course in the Hong Kong Cup, it will not be an issue.”
After riding the five-year-old in his final fast work, Moore shouted to the Japanese media, “He is a very happy horse!” A win this Sunday will put him in the lead for a second consecutive Japan Horse of the Year title and make him only the second Japanese horse, after triple Sha Tin winner Eishin Preston, to win three G1 titles abroad.
The latter fact also applies to defending Cup Champion A Shin Hikari, back at the scene of his first G1 win; he too will attempt to bow out a hero. Earlier this year he stunned the world with a spectacular performance in the G1 Prix d’Ispahan at Chantilly in France, but those who saw his victory in the 2015 Longines Hong Kong Cup were not surprised at all. His follow-up at Ascot was disappointing, as was his performance in the G1 Tenno Sho (Autumn) in which he faded to 12th of 15.
In many ways, the grey son of Deep Impact finds himself in a similar position as last year, for which, all things considered, isn’t the worst position to be in.
“He is a very talented horse, but he either wins really well or loses really badly. As you know, he is a difficult horse, but overseas racing suits him mentally. Less paddock time and pre-race walking allows him to remain calmer than he would in Japan,” said trainer Masanori Sakaguchi.
Queens Ring, a newly minted G1 winner after an impressive closing victory in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2200m) at Kyoto, is the only filly Japan has in the Hong Kong Cup but should not be written off due to her sex or outside draw. The daughter of the late Manhattan Cafe was born into a very competitive crop of fillies yet has shown her class time and time again, especially with her regular rider Mirco Demuro.
“She is a very smart horse and strong mentally. She has a brilliant turn of foot,” the Japan-based Demuro said. She will break from post 11 on Sunday but that has not hampered her connections’ confidence in her.
The inside draw in the Cup could allow the ageing warrior a chance to shine once again. And with the cumulative talent from Japan in this race, it is quite possible that five sixths of the entire HK$25 million pot could be wired to Japan come Monday morning. – hkjc.com
Photo: A Shin Kikari takes a walk around the paddock at Sha-Tin.