Connections of Win Bright pose with the Hong Kong Cup after winning in 2019. Photo by HKJC.

Sun still Rising on Japan’s HKIR hopes

HJKC Staff

HJKC Staff

HKJC Staff Member

07/12/2020

Andrew Hawkins, for the HKJC.

 

The 2019 LONGINES HKIR marked a significant changing of the guard as Japan became the most potent international force at the year-end feature.

As you would expect, the home team leads the way with 45 wins from 109 HKIR contests.

Australia (six), Ireland (four), New Zealand (four), United Arab Emirates (four), South Africa (two), the USA (two) and Singapore (one) have all made their mark but the title of most successful visiting nation has been fought out by three familiar visitors, namely France, Britain and Japan.

The French were the most successful raiders throughout the 2000s, basking in the Daryakana (Vase) and Vision D’Etat (Cup) double in 2009, but La Marseillaise only rang out twice at Sha Tin in the 2010s.

Japan’s first major HKIR marker was laid down on a historic afternoon in 2001 when Stay Gold, Eishin Preston and Agnes Digital captured the Vase, Mile and Cup.

Dual HKIR heroes Lord Kanaloa and Maurice flew the Hinamoru flag in brilliant style during the 2010s, but it was a reprise of the 2001 three-peat twelve months ago that catapulted Japan ahead of France to the top of the global HKIR standings with a running total of 15 winners.

 

Win Bright crowns historic day

 

WATCH: Win Bright wins the 2019 Hong Kong Cup. via HKJC YouTube.

 

December 8, 2019. With three runners in the Vase, four in the Mile and one each in the Sprint and Cup, Japanese fans held out realistic hopes that they might match their most successful day on the world stage. Those hopes were realised in dramatic fashion.

The Vase saw the Japanese trio produce the country’s most dominant collective performance abroad to take the 2400-metre prize. Glory Vase produced an exceptional staying effort under Joao Moreira, finishing three and a half lengths clear of top mare Lucky Lilac, while globetrotting Deirdre made late ground for fourth.

The Sprint dashed albeit faint hopes of a clean sweep as Danon Smash managed only eighth, but the Mile kept the spirit of 2001 alive for increasingly buoyant Japanese fans as Admire Mars became the second ever three-year-old to prevail in this HK$25 million feature, toppling Waikuku and local legend Beauty Generation under an elated Christophe Soumillon.

Two down, one to go. Stay Gold’s durable grey son Win Bright was bidding to emulate an illustrious trio made up of Jim And Tonic, Vengeance Of Rain and Designs On Rome by landing the QEII Cup and the Hong Kong Cup in the same calendar year.

He needed luck on his side but found it at the crucial moment, finding a perfect run at the same time as Aidan O’Brien’s Magic Wand found trouble and hanging on by a diminishing short head as the Irish filly made one final, futile surge.

 

Premium primed to go up for the Cup

December 13, 2020. So how does this year’s Japanese HKIR raiding party stack up?

Two of the three 2019 winners will reappear 12 months on with Admire Mars and Win Bright back to defend their titles. Glory Vase ran with credit in last month’s Japan Cup and, for just the second time since 2007, there will be no Japanese entrant in the Vase.

Notably, the two races that had a single Japanese runner last year will have multiple runners this time: Danon Smash will be joined in the Sprint by Godolphin’s Sprinters Stakes winner Tower Of London, while Danon Premium and last year’s Hong Kong Mile fourth Normcore combine with Win Bright in chasing the richest race on the Hong Kong calendar, the HK$28 million Cup.

Win Bright, who remains two from two over 2000m at Sha Tin, has only had two starts this year with his season geared towards a Hong Kong swansong. While there is no Magic Wand, an even more imposing figure awaits in her stablemate, seven-time Group 1 winner Magical, who could also be bringing the curtain down on her stellar career.

Throw in a reinvigorated Furore and Champion Stakes runner-up Skalleti and Win Bright’s task looks far trickier than a year ago. Meanwhile, Normcore could not have been more disappointing on her latest start, finishing among the tailenders in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Hanshin. It would be a monumental turnaround in a short space of time if she were to land the Cup.

 

Danon Premium
Damon Premium. Photo by JRA.

 

Instead, perhaps the pick is Danon Premium, whose efforts behind Almond Eye in the last two renewals of the Tenno Sho (Autumn) read well. Add in his third to Addeybb in Sydney’s Queen Elizabeth Stakes and he shapes as the clear leader of the Japanese Cup pack.

The Sprint is the toughest frontier to tackle for a visitor: 16 of 21 Hong Kong Sprints have gone to the locals, with two each to Japan (Lord Kanaloa) and Australia (Falvelon) and one to South Africa (J J The Jet Plane).

At least Japan has the Sprint on its record, unlike Great Britain (0 from 33), France (0 from 12) or the United States (0 from 11), but the removal of the superb Lord Kanaloa makes Japan’s strike rate – 0 from 27 – look very bleak indeed.

Last-start Sprinters Stakes runner-up Danon Smash and the same race’s 2019 winner Tower Of London are among a very even bunch of Japanese short-course stars, Gran Alegria aside.

Both horses are inconsistent with queries against their name, Danon Smash beaten comfortably last year and Tower Of London first-up since May. However, they meet a group of Hong Kong sprinters who, like their Japanese counterparts, are members of a similarly even division.

The recent addition of The Everest winner Classique Legend to the home team is exciting, while Singapore’s X-factor horse Inferno, rated by some shrewd pundits as their best since Rocket Man, adds another layer of intrigue.

 

Plenty to Admire as Mars aims for Mile double

All of which leaves Admire Mars, who is primed for arguably the highlight of the day as he tackles local superstar Golden Sixty in a mouthwatering clash of the titans in the Mile.

 

WATCH: Admire Mars wins the 2019 Hong Kong Mile. via HKJC YouTube.

 

The presence of a two-time Mile winner in Beauty Generation and shock Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Order Of Australia would, in any normal year, shape as the main event. But this time around, it is the sideshow.

Golden Sixty has risen from unraced anonymity to lauded Hong Kong local hero, becoming only the second horse to sweep the Four-Year-Old Classic Series and joining Silent Witness, Beauty Generation and Co-Tack as winner of 10 straight races in Hong Kong with his clinical recent Jockey Club Mile success.

It seems there is nothing on the home front to match him, but he faces his stiffest test yet as he goes toe to toe with last year’s Mile winner.

Admire Mars’ lead-up run in the Mile Championship was solid behind the flying Gran Alegria and he enters better prepared than last year. Physically, he seemed far from the finished product as a three-year-old and he appears to have furnished nicely at four.

With Christophe Soumillon out of quarantine and back aboard Admire Mars for the first time since last year, there is ample evidence to suggest that if Golden Sixty is to add HKIR winner to his already impressive resume, he is going to have to earn it.

But whether Japan’s six-horse team repeats last year’s heroics or strike out, one thing is for sure: the era of the rising sun is here to stay.