The Japanese raiders took the honours at December’s Hong Kong International Races and it looks like they will be back in force for FWD Champions Day at Sha Tin on April 25.
The entries for the three Group Ones – the QE II Cup (2,000m), the Champions Mile (1,600m) and Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1,200m) – came out on Tuesday but only a fraction of the 77 horses nominated will actually take part on the big day.
As much as it would be nice to have representatives from Europe and the Middle East, the realities of Covid-19 restrictions/quarantine requirements means it is virtually impossible, so the four horses entered from Britain, the two from France and the three from Qatar are highly unlikely to make the trip. It’s a similar story for the Japanese horses like Chrono Genesis and Loves Only You, who are competing in Dubai on Saturday but are also on the list.
The racing bubble, which allowed HKIR to go ahead, will again be in action but the risk profile of those countries (and the tighter Hong Kong government restrictions) means it is set to be limited to participants from Japan.
But that’s not a bad thing – a Champions Day showdown between Hong Kong’s best against some of the elite gallopers from the Land of the Rising Sun is enthralling, so let’s run through some of the more likely major players.
The connections of Daring Tact, who swept the Japanese Fillies Triple Crown last year, have already signalled their intention to compete in the QE II, as has Group One veteran Kiseki. The Hong Kong Vase winner from 2019, Glory Vase, is also in the mix.
The 2,000m contest looks to be the visitors’ strongest, with Tony Cruz’s ageing star Exultant, stablemate Furore and up-and-comers Russian Emperor and Panfield holding the fort for Hong Kong.
The big name missing from that crew is homegrown superstar Golden Sixty, with trainer Francis Lui Kin-wai confirming this week that he was “leaning” towards the Champions Mile. That is the smart call – he is one of the best milers in the world and, on the evidence presented so far, is unlikely to reach those heights over 2,000m.
Joining the “Golden boy” in the Mile are fellow Group One winners Waikuku and Southern Legend and, potentially, Hong Kong Derby champion Sky Darci.
They could come up against the likes of star filly Resistencia, last year’s Group One NHK Mile winner Lauda Sion and top-line competitor Indy Champ, but that will be determined after all three compete in Sunday’s Group One Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1,200m) at Chukyo.
They will also be taking on Danon Smash, who is back at the races for the first time since his victory in December’s Hong Kong Sprint, and he is considered a “probable” to make a return to the city for the Chairman’s Sprint Prize, with ownermate Danon Fantasy in the “possible” category.
Hong Kong only has one Group One-winning sprinter in its ranks at the moment – Hot King Prawn – but big-name Australian import Classique Legend looks to be getting back to his best while rising star Wellington will also be putting his hand up.
There are a host of other entrants, from both jurisdictions, but they are the main ones.
Given all the frustrations and complications caused by the pandemic, the fact that Hong Kong and Japan are (touch wood) set to go head-to-head in three top-level contests at Sha Tin next month is exciting.
The final fields will be announced on April 8 and, hopefully, they live up to expectations.