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Early thoughts on the HKIR runners from the HKJC

The trackwork schedule is beginning to heat-up in Hong Kong as all of the horses due to run next Sunday have arrived. DubaiRaceNight.com coverage from HK begins on Wednesday with final thoughts on trackwork sessions, a full analysis of the races, and commentary on the Hong Kong racing experience. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @DubaiRaceNight for regularly-updated thoughts.

Below, you will find some of the press releases from the Hong Kong Jockey Club in recent days…some light reading material to get your mind acclimated to the contenders aiming for late season glory.

Ticks in boxes for Empoli’s LONGINES Vase bid

German-trained horses have earned huge respect when they raid major overseas prizes but, so far, victory on Hong Kong’s great raceday, the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races, has eluded them.

But it is by no means impossible that the four-year-old colt Empoli could set that record straight in the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin on Sunday 14 December.

There are certainly plenty of positives including the fact that Empoli arrives on the back of a career-best performance when classy late acceleration saw him victorious in the G1 Preis Von Europa (video below) at Cologne in September.

Despite being the highest-rated horse in that G1 event he wasn’t one of the favourites after a couple of disappointing displays in France but his triumph was all the more meritorious in that he was short of space in the closing stages. Jockey Adrie de Vries, who will be back on board for the big day, switched him to the outside in the nick of time and Empoli’s surge then proved decisive.

Dutch-born, German-based De Vries - currently enjoying an assignment at Meydan - said: “This horse is a character but I knew he was good and he showed it that day.”

One of the aspects of that ‘character’ is that Empoli has occasionally played up at the stalls, including when refusing to enter them on one occasion at Meydan in February. However, with Hong Kong in mind, that does not seem to be a worry for trainer Peter Schiergen who said: “Empoli has only really shown any problem at the gates in Dubai. We have given him plenty of practice since, and he should be fine.”

And he was fine at the stalls for his run in Meydan’s G1 Dubai Sheema Classic in March, moreover running a terrific 2 ½-length fourth to Japanese star Gentildonnadespite being horribly hampered on the first bend.

Meanwhile Schiergen has huge experience and huge talent as well, being one of that rare breed who has been both a champion jockey and champion trainer.

He was German champion jockey for five consecutive seasons, and, in 1995, he set a European record with 273 wins. Since becoming a trainer in 1998, he has marshalled the career of some of Germany’s best horses – including perhaps the country’s best-ever horse, the brilliant mare Danedream who was the sensational five-length winner of the 2011 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

“Empoli is not Danedream,” says his trainer realistically. “However, when he can travel nicely in a race, he can be extremely smart. Of course I hope he can draw a good gate, and get a good start. He acts on any surface and should have no worries with Sha Tin.”

Putting more ticks in boxes Schiergen reminds us: “He has only had six races this year and will be a fresh horse,” adding: “I have been very happy with his work since that Cologne victory.”

Despite plenty of other major victories in Europe, Schiergen admits that 2014 has not been one of the best of his splendid training career but says: “Let’s hope we can end it on a high in Hong Kong.”

Yahagi and Ikee plotting LONGINES Hong Kong Mile glory for Japan

Yoshito Yahagi is bidding to become the JRA champion trainer for the first time this season, and he is also hoping his G1-winning miler Grand Prix Boss can bow out with another top-class success in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile on Sunday, 14 December.

Grand Prix Boss, for whom the Mile will be his career swansong, will be one of the 10-strong Japanese contingent – the largest ever – participating in this year’s LONGINES Hong Kong International Races, and is among a quartet from that country engaged in the Mile.

With eight race days remaining in the current JRA season, Yahagi is currently locked in a close battle for the JRA trainer premiership. He and Kazuo Fujisawa are inseparable at 50 wins apiece.  But the 53-year-old trainer, whose best JRA season so far was in 2009 when he ranked second to Fujisawa, will turn his attention to Hong Kong on Sunday week when his stable’s flag-bearer features in the HK$23 million mile showcase for a second time.

Yahagi reported that the six-year-old, winner of G1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes in 2010 and G1 NHK Mile Cup in 2011, will retire to stud after Sunday week’s test.

“The next start is his final career start before going to stud in the New Year.  We just keep doing our best for him.  The Hong Kong Mile is very much a worthy race for his last run,” he said.

It will be the third overseas race for the prolific miler. In his two previous overseas adventures Grand Prix Boss finished 12th in the 2012 Hong Kong Mile behind Ambitious Dragon – who will re-oppose this year – and eighth behind the mighty Frankel in the G1 St James’ Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2011.

After finishing a nose second behind the world’s highest-rated horse, Just A Way, in the G1 Yasuda Kinen (video below) in June, Grand Prix Boss ran a fair 6th latest in the G1 Mile Championship at Kyoto last month. Yahagi said his charge has come out of the race brightly.

“He was very fresh and full of beans after the Mile Championship.  He will go into this race in good condition and hopefully he will avenge his previous defeat in Hong Kong a couple of years ago,” said Yahagi, who previously saddled Super Hornet to run fifth behind Good Ba Ba in the 2008 Hong Kong Mile.

Yahagi’s peer, Yasutoshi Ikee, is another top Japanese trainer plotting victory in the LONGINES Hong Kong Mile.  The 2008 JRA champion trainer, son of former trainer Yasuo Ikee who prepped Stay Gold to a famous win in the 2001 Hong Kong Vase, looks to World Ace in this race.

The five-year-old son of Deep Impact won the G2 Yomiuri Milers Cup at Kyoto in April and subsequently finished a fair 5th in the Yasuda Kinen before finishing 8th last time in the Mile Championship.

“In the Mile Championship, he actually did not show his true form at all,” said Ikee, who this time has booked Hong Kong Champion jockey Zac Purton for the ride. “He started sluggishly and the jockey tried to push him hard, but then he was not settled until going into the final turn.  I think we can ignore his performance last time.  The slightly softer track at Sha Tin will be his only issue.”

Ikee revealed that World Ace was unsettled upon arriving at the quarantine facility in Japan but has since settled and is in good order for his trip to Hong Kong.

“When he moved to the quarantine stable, he became tense and was not settled. But thankfully there are lots of other horses staying at the same quarantine stable, so he was soon relaxed again,” he said.

Ikee’s only previous Hong Kong runner, Trailblazer, it finished a creditable sixth in the 2011 Hong Kong Vase.  Ikee also took Orfevre, the best horse he has ever trained, to France for back-to-back runner-up finishes in the G1 Prix de l’Arc deTriomphe in 2012 and 2013.

Heathcote delighted as Buffering settles in at Sha Tin

Buffering undertook light exercise at Sha Tin racecourse this morning (Friday, 5 December) and trainer Robert Heathcote was on hand to oversee his stable star, who will line up in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint on Sunday, 14 December.

The Mossman gelding had a light canter on the dirt track and Heathcote reported that the four-time G1 winner is in fine order after arriving in Hong Kong on Tuesday along with the David Hayes-trained Criterion.

“Everything’s very good,” said Queensland’s champion trainer. “It was encouraging news I got when I was back home in Brisbane as they walked off the plane. Even the vet here commented how well Criterion and Buffering had done – they got off the plane nice and bright. They’ve been here the three days now and I’m very, very happy.

“Buffering didn’t clean his bin out (at first). As you know, we trainers like to train out of the feed bin – but last night he completely cleaned his bin out. That’s normal. It takes a couple of days to settle in and he’s done that. He’s nice and bright, and when the trackwork rider has just said to me ‘we’ve got to do a little bit more tomorrow, boss’ that’s a good sign to me.”

2014 12 05 Buffering - HKJC Photo
HKJC Photo

Buffering heads into his first overseas assignment off the back of three runs in G1 company. After edging Lankan Rupee in September’s Moir Stakes the seven-year-old was a close seventh to the same rival in the Manikato Stakes after a troubled run, and last start, on 8 November, the tough bay was fourth to Terravista in the Darley Classic at Flemington.

“We won’t be doing a lot of work with him,” said Heathcote. “I have a fit racehorse, he’s had some good solid racing in the spring down in Melbourne; he had a Group 1 win in the Moir Stakes, a solid run in the Manikato without a lot of luck – it was a thrilling race – and then a good run behind the three highest-rated sprinters in the world. I’ll maybe give him a look at the course proper on Saturday morning and then on Tuesday morning he’ll have a more searching gallop.”

Heathcote is relishing the upcoming challenge and rates being in Hong Kong with a serious contender as being among his career highlights. And that could turn into an outright pinnacle if Buffering can emulate Falvelon (2000 & 2001), the only other Australian-trained Hong Kong Sprint victor.

“The mere fact that he got an invitation to come here is exciting. I’ve had some highlights in my racing career but to be standing here at Sha Tin – certainly if we can be competitive and win, it would be the highlight of my career,” he asserted.

The G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) carries a purse of HK$18.5 million, making it the world’s richest all-age 1200m turf race. The LONGINES Hong Kong International Races also feature the HK$25 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m), the HK$23 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile and the HK$16.5 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m).

A familiar fresh approach as Glorious Days trials ahead of Mile test

Glorious Days won the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile at his first start last season and trainer John Size is sticking to the tried and tested route going into this year’s renewal on Sunday, 14 December.

Just like 12 months ago, Glorious Days has been kept fresh for the big day with Size using two dirt track barrier trials in the lead-up to sharpen the Hussonet gelding. The second of those came this morning (Friday, 5 December) in an eight-horse heat over 1200m.

As he did at the same stage of last year’s prep, nine days out from race day, Glorious Days travelled smoothly and cruised home with plenty in the tank. In last year’s corresponding trial he tanked home a neck second in 1m 11.06 s. This time the seven-year-old’s new big-race pilot Mirco Demuro was in the plate and the rider was always going to take things easy on the slow, wet track - Demuro had hold of a tight rein as the pair crossed the line an easy fourth in 1m 12.53s.

Size was deservedly lauded for peaking Glorious Days without a prep race last season and the trainer is once again happy with his charge, whose career first-up record reads 1, 1, 2,1.

“He seems okay, he’s healthy and well and he’s sound,” said the trainer. “He’s done everything that we’ve wanted him to. It’s always problematical to know exactly where you are with them without racing them but he’s run well fresh a few times and I’d be happy if he does the same again.

“He looks exactly the same but he’s a year older and I’ve constantly got that thought in my mind as to if I have to make any adjustment because of that. His energy levels can’t be as high as they were when he was a four-year-old but he’s still the same horse, it’s just up to me to produce the horse on the day. That’s the most important thing, so I’m trying to make sure everything’s okay with him in general.”

Last year Glorious Days swept past runner-up Gold-Fun to claim a famous LONGINES Hong Kong Mile win under Douglas Whyte. The year before, the talented brown gelding came up just short behind the brilliant Ambitious Dragon. He is set to face both opponents again on Sunday week but Size has at least one eye on another rival.

“He’s the older horse now and Able Friend’s the new one on the open class scene,” said the Australian, a seven-time champion trainer in Hong Kong. “Able Friend’s got the ratings, he’s done the job and he certainly looks the one to beat on paper. He’s a formidable opponent, he puts them away very quickly; he’s got a very good sprint, so he’ll be hard to beat.”

2014 12 05 Glorious Days - HKJC Photo
HKJC Photo (Glorious Days, outside)

Demuro climbed aboard Glorious Days for the first time two weeks when the gelding blew away any cobwebs in the first of his two barrier trials. And the Italian was pleased with the progress his LONGINES Hong Kong Mile hope has made in the interim.

“He feels like he’s come on from the last time I trialled him,” said Demuro. “John has just tried to do the same things he did last year, so he had two trials before the race – nice and easy. That’s what we tried to do today, just easy. He had a little pressure from the horse inside me but he did it very comfortably. It looks like he’s ready for the race. I’m happy that John and the owners considered me because he’s a very good ride to have.”

The G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile is the world’s richest turf mile with a purse of HK$23 million. The LONGINES Hong Kong International Races also feature the HK$25 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m), the HK$18.5 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and the HK$16.5 million LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m).

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