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2014 Longines Hong Kong International Races Analysis & Tips

It’s been a great week in Hong Kong and now comes the time to put out our analysis relative to all the work, observations, race replays, and more. Here is our crack at the four big year-ending races.

Race 4 – HK$16,500,000 (US$2,128,600) Longines Hong Kong Vase (G1) – 2,400m, Turf

The race will have some pace elements as #10 KHAYA and # 6 BUBBLE CHIC should go forward, the latter chasing the pace in the main local prep for this event. #3 CURREN MIROTIC wouldn’t be out of place towards the front either.

#8 WILLIE CAZALS is one of the sneakier horses we’ve encountered in a big race. He is winless since a class two handicap at Happy Valley in April 2013 and is absolutely at his best over longer distances. Two races in May of 2013 really strike the eye – yes, May 2013. On May 5, he settled last (as he normally does, well back) in the Queen Mother Memorial Cup (HKG2) over the 2,400-metre trip behind some incredibly slow mid-race fractions. He bolted through the field and absolutely looked to get up on the line…except eventual 2013 Longines Hong Kong Vase winner #2 DOMINANT got the most beneficial of nods.

He came back a few weeks later and bested Dominant when second compared to his third in the Champions & Chater Cup (HKG1), but California Memory got the jump on the field.

Now, fast forward to 2014. Willie Cazals had three starts this season – a third at Happy Valley over 1,800 metres and then a very close second at Sha Tin over the same trip. He came back in the Jockey Club Cup (G2) on November 23 over 2,000 metres, and swung wide off the final turn and could only get up to seventh. To our eyes, however, he really wasn’t asked to be 100% in this spot, and that makes him a phenomenal value today. Watch the Jockey Club Cup below, take special notice of the grey at the back and watch his performance in the stretch.

It’s worth noting that, on the sectional timing, Willie Cazals was running his final 400 metres in the Jockey Club Cup basically as fast as winner Blazing Speed and the game Designs On Rome. That makes him incredibly viable over his preferred distance of 2,400 metres.

The price WILL be right.

#4 EMPOLI was forced to shift off the rail after tracking the pace in the Preis Von Europe (G1) last time, did that well, and ran down Earl of Tinsdal to get his first win since a maiden score. That’s not suggest he hasn’t been competitive – he has, and it makes him a compelling horse at a price in the exotics.

His Dubai Sheema Classic, when fourth, and just in front of Dominant, was better than it looks on paper (and it doesn’t look that bad on paper, anyway). He covered 12 metres more than Gentildonna according to the Trakus data and was greatly hampered by the grief-stricken Mars. He has had issues loading at the barriers before, so don’t take it as a bad sign if it continues.

Now, as for the intangibles, Empoli has looked phenomenal all week. Keen to get on with his trackwork, lapping up the scene. All systems go.

So what to make of #1 FLINTSHIRE? He ran second in both the Arc and the Breeders’ Cup Turf, both very seemingly good runs. But at the same time, he really failed to make a massive impression, just running solid. He is an absolutely massive favourite on the European books and makes sense taking-on if you have the opportunity. That said, this overall field is indeed a step down in company and he should be viewed as deserving of that role as chalk.

Back to Curren Mirotic. The lone Japanese entrant in this race is a pace presence, but doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in his potential to see out the full trip here. He’s faced some decent company, and surprised with a few placings, but is way under the odds in Europe.

Do you like #12 SNOW SKY? He seems to have plenty of support, but is just a two-time winner, and that last one in 3-year-old company from Goodwood. Others really inspire us more.

It is phenomenal to see #5 RED CADEAUX back in this spot, but we just can’t have him, though fully expect him to be competitive. He is winless since taking this race in 2012, and while there have been many good spots since, he just rarely gets down first. Love him overall, just not to win.

1st – #8 WILLIE CAZALS, 2nd – #1 FLINTSHIRE, 3rd – #4 EMPOLI, 4th – #5 RED CADEAUX, 5th – #3 CURREN MIROTIC

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Race 5 – HK$18,500,000 (US$2,386,700) Longines Hong Kong Sprint (G1) – 1,200m, Turf

Watch the Jockey Club Sprint, the final local prep for this race. Eight horses emerge from that race into this one, and there is a load to see. Trouble abounded for many, most notably #1 LUCKY NINE, #4 STERLING CITY, and #9 AEROVELOCITY.

Winner #8 PENIAPHOBIA covered the widest trip last time in a very impressive effort, breaking through with his first local group success. #

Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Sterling City simply had nowhere to run, it was the most incredible non-effort we’ve seen in a big race recently. The three horses around him were in stationary positions and he was never given an opportunity to move out of a pocket. Off this non-effort, he could move forward and has been stellar in trackwork. All systems go for another win.

#3 SOLE POWER is Europe’s top sprinter for the season, with repeat wins in the King’s Stand and Nunthorpe Stakes. He was a dandy second in this race last season, which basically meant he won the race for the rest of the field, as the amazing Lord Kanaloa ran away with the affair. He’s never won at 1,200 metres, and last year’s second here was the only time he ever got that close. Still, he’s a massive player on class and as is his typical style, would come from well off the pace, of which there will be plenty.

Speaking of pace, how about #5 BUFFERING. In what will be the old boy’s 46th lifetime start, he finally makes it out of Australia, and just loves running forward and trying to last. He had a brief abscess earlier this week, but it cleared quickly and all seems well. His win three back in the Moir, his season opener, was classy when defeating Lankan Rupee. He was outpaced in the Manikato Stakes and couldn’t match Lankan Rupee on that occasion in a wild finish. Sha Tin is significantly different than Moonee Valley, though, when it comes to course design and the tempo and setup could strike him with differences too. It’s tough to prognosticate how he handles it, but his presence in the race adds intrigue.

The Japanese offer three possible players in here after back-to-back wins in the race, led by the great Lord Kanaloa.

It’s going to take some creative thought to believe that #7 SNOW DRAGON could win this after pulling an improbable 46-1 upset in the Sprinters Stakes last time. Very typically, however, he runs his race, and rarely puts in a bad effort. With plenty of early pace to run at, if anyone was going to pick them up from well off it, it’s this 6-year-old. Given the market behaviour that is expected, he will be monumental odds on the Hong Kong tote and worth a small play just in case.

Yasunari Iwata, who rides #13 STRAIGHT GIRL, had the two wins on Lord Kanaloa to his credit. The mare just missed in the Sprinters Stakes when slicing through the field, while Snow Dragon’s run was unabated when wide. She has yet to win in top company, but it’s within the realm of the possible. #14 LITTLE GERDA is the least accomplished of the three, this being her first try in Group 1 company. That said, she hasn’t done anything wrong.

At the end of the day, we think the HK horses are best in this spot on this day. Sterling City is sitting on a massive effort again after not being able to lengthen in the least last out. All this being said, we are of the opinion that anyone could finish third in this race, it’s just a question of finding the right ones on top, and playing accordingly.

1st – #4 STERLING CITY, 2nd – #1 LUCKY NINE, 3rd – #9 AEROVELOCITY, 4th – #8 PENIAPHOBIA, 5th – #3 SOLE POWER

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Race 7 – HK$23,000,000 (US$2,937,100) Longines Hong Kong Mile (G1) – 1,600m, Turf

Everything leading up to this point has been designed to get #1 ABLE FRIEND to peak in this race. Making his third start off the seasonal freshening, Able Friend is at the peak of his ratings following a superb second-up effort in the Jockey Club Mile (G2) (watch the race below). Drawn wide in April’s Champions Mile (G1), he could only land within four lengths of Variety Club. There should also be no attention paid to his fourth in the Premier Bowl (HKG2), a race where he was obviously short of work coming off the shelf.

Anything that comes close to this performance from the Jockey Club Mile gets Able Friend a win.

#2 GOLD-FUN was a warm favourite for this race a year ago and could not manage to handle #3 GLORIOUS DAYS, who was coming off a six-month break following a try in the Yasuda Kinen. If it worked once…they are trying it again. The repeat act simply merits consideration.

Now, as for Gold-Fun…there is no pace in this race. He’s going to go forward and dictate the tempo. Absolutely no one else in this race, as it’s drawn on paper, wants to get on with it. Able Friend showed some decent early positioning last time, so we know he can race towards the front. But still, this race runs through Gold-Fun and Douglas Whyte’s ability to mete the tempo.

#6 FIERO lost a wicked head-bob in the Mile Championship (G1) at Kyoto last time and had been beaten almost five lengths by Just A Way and 148-1 outsider #4 GRAND PRIX BOSS in the Yasuda Kinen. The ground was bottomless for the Yasuda, so we won’t hold it against him. This is still a class test for Fiero, and it makes him tough to back.

According to the Trakus sectional times, #8 TRADE STORM ran the third fastest final quarter and furlong of the Breeders’ Cup Mile, saving ground as well through much of the race. He managed a signature win in the Woodbine Mile but might still just be a cut below. His absolute best, and maybe a bit more, puts him in the conversation for a placing.

1st – #1 ABLE FRIEND, 2nd #2 GOLD-FUN, 3rd – #6 FIERO, 4th – #3 GLORIOUS DAYS, th – #8 TRADE STORM

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Race 8 – HK$25,000,000 (US$3,225,000) Longines Hong Kong Cup (G1) – 2,000m, Turf

#1 CIRRUS DES AIGLES is back for the fifth consecutive season, contesting the Hong Kong International Races. He was fifth in the 2009 Vase (Daryakana), seventh in the 2010 Cup (Snow Fairy), fifth in the 2011 Cup (California Memory), and third, beaten just 1 ½ lengths in the 2013 Cup (Akeed Mofeed). A slight injury in 2012, suffered while in Hong Kong, is the only thing that kept him from competing that year.

Wow. Just wow. These are the horses you love to see on the track.

He won the Prix Dollar (G2) at Longchamp before losing the race in the stewards’ room, but his wins over Flintshire, Anodin, and Treve all stand out as high quality. His second in the Dubai Sheema Classic was strong.

Can he win this? Sure. Ignore the effort over heavy going, which is easy to do as it really was bottomless at Ascot after days and days of rain, and he makes sense. Cirrus Des Aigles ran five times in the spring before four months off. He was campaigned similarly in 2012 when he came very close to beating Frankel and prior to his Hong Kong injury. The European markets have been down on his chances, offered at 10-1 most of the lead-up to the weekend. It’s a very fair price. Trainer Corine Barande-Barbe has been overwhelmed at how fresh he is, and after a good piece of work that was faster than the trainer wanted, he’s been kept in tight this weekend and still viewed as having bounced out of it well.

In the Champion Stakes, Cirrus Des Aigles was wide throughout with little cover, something he’ll get plenty of from gate four, and also looked too keen for the going, which clearly tired him. Have a slice.

The Jockey Club Cup was a sensational race, with the first five finishers separated by less than a length, and all coming back for the big race. It also suggests there is no massive standout amongst the locals.

#4 BLAZING SPEED, who won the Jockey Club Cup, has quietly put together a compelling 2014, starting out with a January win in the Stewards’ Cup (HKG1), the Champions & Chater Cup, all of which followed his sixth in this race a year ago, beaten less than two lengths. He was, more or less, the widest traveler in that last race and bested horses who, while likely not 100%, covered significantly less ground than he did, notably #7 ENDOWING and #5 CALIFORNIA MEMORY. It was the biggest performance for Endowing since he won the Jockey Club Cup a year before, and you had to go back to May 2013 to find a better run from California Memory, who won this race in 2012. If one of these three locals were to win in 2014, we’d go with Blazing Speed, although he was done no favours in the draw with 12.

Audemars Piguet QE II Cup (G1) winner #2 DESIGNS ON ROME is winless in four starts since, and could fly ever-so-slightly under the radar in this. He’s almost always well-backed, and was favoured in both starts this year when rivals #3 MILITARY ATTACK and Blazing Speed bested him. If the goal is to get him to peak for this, at least you can see he wasn’t overcooked for his first two runs.

Military Attack deserves massive consideration as he has been spot on in two recent starts off the seasonal freshening. Dan Excel got away with the lead in Singapore and Military Attack just couldn’t catch him, so we can’t really hold that against him, and he was only beaten 1 ½ lengths in this last year when probably given too much to do.

#9 ARCHIMEDES is a fascinating chance for Japan, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Darley operation there. He was second behind Just A Way in March’s Nakayama Kinen (G2) over 1,800 metres, and now, off a nine-month break, is in the deep end of the pool. Only three times out of the first three, it is worth noting he was a winner first-up last year, but in a conditions event. His Nakayama Kinen came off a three-month respite, too, and trainer Hideaki Fujiwara made it clear this race was a long-term plan. Respect him, and his strong morning appearances this week.

This is the seventh event of the season for #6 CRITERION, who endured a slight colickly spell just prior to arriving in Hong Kong. The 2014 Australian Derby winner, going right-handed in New South Wales, s winless against elders this year. He made three runs at the Spring Carnival, including a second in the Caulfield Stakes on October 11 before a seventh to Adelaide in the Cox Plate. He’s tough to like in this spot given that things haven’t exactly gone his way.

#8 FARRAAJ is a very nice gelding. The fact he is a shorter price than Cirrus Des Aigles on the European markets is, to us, incredible. This is so far and away the toughest race of his career, and when factoring in his only wins in recent years are handicaps, it is difficult to see him competitive here. For those who can, he’s a monumental lay at the odds.

Now, let’s reset. Cirrus Des Aigles seems both in form, not overcooked, and the best price he’s been in years for a race like this. That’s compelling. If Blazing Speed runs back to his Jockey Club Cup, he can win this. Designs On Rome should improve fourth-up on the peak. Military Attack…third-up improvement. All are viable. Archimedes is the intriguing chance for a very shrewd Fujiwara, who has been incredibly confident in his portrayal of his horses this week.

Presumably SAME WORLD and HELENE SUPER STAR go forward and serve as the pace for respective stable companions in the field, well, it could make it a fair go, but the speed shouldn’t be too brisk in here. A well-drawn Cirrus Des Aigles on faster going, in good form, making a great appearance, and as competitive as they come. Why not?

When so many horses are relatively equal, as the top locals are in here, and without any really big push to back them, it seems a ripe occasion to tap Cirrus Des Aigles to get the job done. Go with it.

1st – #1 CIRRUS DES AIGLES, 2nd – #2 DESIGNS ON ROME, 3rd – #4 BLAZING SPEED, 4th – #9 ARCHIMEDES, 5th – #3 MILITARY ATTACK

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