Thursday, December 06, 2007

Hong Kong International Races

Overview: The Hong Kong International Races are an annual highlight for me. There are three big international race meetings all year that I consider to be championship type events. The Dubai World Cup, the Breeders Cup and the Hong Kong International. The quality of racing really is that good. Now they do not offer any racing aside from Turf racing so it does not typically attract much American participation, but neither does the Breeders Cup attract much Asian or Australian competition. Over the four Hong Kong International races you’ll see horses from Europe, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. One of the best things about the Hong Kong International meeting is the information they make available to the fans free of charge. You can get Past Performances (below), watch the workouts, see a few races from the International participants and of course you can watch any race conducted in Hong Kong over the last year as well as viewing all the past HKIR events.

In this years events we have a ton of good story lines and plenty of high profile races. In the Sprint we have Australian Horse of the Year Miss Andretti facing superstar to be Sacred Kingdom. In the Mile Darjina will be a hot favorite. Dylan Thomas will try to end his season off in style in the Vase and then in the Hong Kong Cup we have Viva Pataca against archrival Vengence of Rain. I’ll do my best to handicap these races but given the different structure of the gambling scene and the different currency involved these picks will not count towards the blog handicapping scorecard. These are just some novelty plays.

Hong Kong Sprint
I wish this were just as simple as Miss Andretti vs Sacred Kingdom but there are many more horses capable of winning this race, not the least of which Absolute Power who won this race by a record margin last year while setting a track record. The first thing that stands out to me is that all the principles like to be ridden from off the pace, which is an odd phenomenon in a Sprint race. There is virtually no early speed in here at all and I think that gives a slight advantage to Why Be, the highest rated horse in Singapore. He likes to go to the front and he might control this race. Having only run in Singapore his chances against international competition are not though of as excellent but the pace scenario has to move him up. Just two years back a similar situation existed with the speedy Natural Blitz who hailed from Macau. He never looked back once the gates opened. Miss Andretti is clearly the horse to beat in my mind though and she does have the ability to sit rather close to the pace without cover and still make a good run. Sacred Kingdom sometimes gets close to the front but without cover he gets quite rank. I would expect them to tuck him in and hope for a seam when it counts. I think that gives Miss Andretti the advantage of first run and if Why Be is not digging in she should be the horse they’ll be trying to run down. Absolute Champion was easily handled last time out by Sacred Kingdom but they still train the old way in Hong Kong where prep races are used to bring horses around, especially 6 year olds like this guy. He should improve off the run and his trainer is saying he is better now than he was going into the race last year. That has to make him a huge factor and with his experience edge over Sacred Kingdom I’m actually going to tab him as the best of the locals for this race. European Sprinters are often scoffed at on the International scene but Benbaun has done himself credit in this race running third last year. His form is much improved this year and it would not shock me to see the gallant old gelding improve on that performance. The only question mark with him is that he likes to come from last and much of his best form has come on straight tracks. If you happen to be at a location that permits wagering on these races then Benbaun is a great horse to use underneath. Why Be is consistent against lesser competition and is also quite the battler. I think he’ll either win this event or run poorly. Miss Andretti is the safe play and she may even offer value as Sacred Kingdom will get the local money. In the end I think I’ll go with Miss Andretti but not ignoring the upset chances of Why Be and Absolute Champion. If Sacred Kingdom is truly the super horse his fans claim he is then he’ll beat me, but I’m going to make him beat me.

Miss Andretti
Why Be
Absolute Champion

Hong Kong Vase
This race is typically dominated by the Europeans and I think this year it will be par for the course. 9 of the 13 entrants represent Europe and between Dylan Thomas, Doctor Dino, Quijano and Red Rocks I don't see any room for a local to land a blow. Those 4 principles should decide this race between them and I'm looking for a shock in this race. I think Dylan Thomas can be beaten again. It's not that he has been particularly unimpressive in his gallops but it has been a long season and he might not be at the level he once was. Doctor Dino on the other hand is the most impressive horse I've seen in the whole meet. He looks colossal in his gallops and is clearly a horse in fine form right now. His form is already nearly good enough to tackle Dylan Thomas. Add in his peak physical condition and his proven ability to ship and run well and I think Doctor Dino is your winner. He has not been the distance yet but he should easily stay 12f on this course. It's what they would call a "soft" or "easy" 12f. I also think Red Rocks is sitting on a big race. Not sure if he's up to winning the contest but I do expect one of his best efforts of the campaign. He should be running late and could do as well as second or even first should some bad luck befall Dylan and the Doctor. I'm not big on Quijano, I think he is a shade below top class and he looks a little gaunt right now. His form on paper looks okay but my suspicion is that he is not as good as the form suggests.

Doctor Dino
Dylan Thomas
Red Rocks

Hong Kong Mile
Always a very even contest, the Sprint is dominated by Australian breds and the Vase by Europeans but the Mile is routinely won by an eclectic mix of horses from all over. There is no regional advantage and this is one race where the locals have a really strong shout despite the presence of some tough Europeans. Darjina and Excellent Art have dominated much of the pre-race build up. Two of Europe's finest milers without a doubt. Good Ba Ba is drawing a lot of local support after a fine win in the local trial. I think Excellent Art is vulnerable. He always comes with a run but losing is a mindset and Excellent Art is in the habit of not getting by. The pace should be solid so it might setup for him but I'm leaning against. Darjina on the other hand is not a great horse to oppose. She has looked in fine form and on any ground aside from soft she has been spectacular. She figures to get her type of ground in this race and it is hard not to see her doing her best. The only real question mark is traffic, when you come from the back you need some luck in running. I'm not a fan of Good Ba Ba at all. I think he's a terrible gamble to take off that big performance in the prep race. He's a decent sort but quite beatable. I much prefer Floral Pegasus to him. Floral Pegasus was just a length behind Ramonti in this fixture last year and he has since had surgery to correct his breathing. He was not at all ready in his first start back and he nearly denied Good Ba Ba in the Trial. They still use prep races in the traditional sense in Hong Kong and I think this is a horse that moves up off that race. I think he'll be primed and ready to spring the surprise. Kongo Rikishio should set a strong gallop and may be largely uncontested but I don't see him being able to outrun this field. I'll take Floral Pegasus in a tight decision over Darjina with Excellent Art or Joyful Winner coming in third.

Floral Pegasus
Excellent Art

Hong Kong Cup
This race is all about two horses. Vengence of Rain and Viva Pataca. Ramonti has been entered and some will give him a chance but aside from his class and enormous heart he does not have much going for him. He is the horse they'll both have to pass but I think the final furlong will find him out and he won't be able to withstand two legitimate G-1 level 10f horses. He is streets above the rest of the chaff in this race so he should stay on for third but this race is about Hong Kong's leading pair. In the Spring these two had it out 3 times with Viva Pataca taking the last two of those meetings. It is that form that will see him slightly favored here. But I think those races were not as conclusive as the 3 length winning margin in the Champions & Chater suggests. Popular opinion is that Vengence of Rain was slightly superior when they first met but by the end of the head to head matchups Viva Pataca had improved beyond the 7 year old. My personal impression was that Vengence of Rain looked tired after his trip to Dubai. He never had the same punch and in any event he is probably not as good over 12f. But 10f is right up his alley and I loved his prep comeback. Viva Pataca took a 10f trial race in fine style but Venegence of Rain was intentionally entered in a spot where he had little to no chance. He was never going to beat good milers over their preferred distance but he came with a huge run in the final furlong to be 5th. That race should set him up beautifully for yet another win in the Hong Kong Cup. He is fresh and his trainer knows how to get him set up for a big day. I think his marked preference for the course and distance stands him in good stead against Viva Pataca.

Vengence Of Rain
Viva Pataca

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