Experience the key for three-strong O’Brien challenge

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With so many opportunities throughout a racing calendar which stretches across the world, it has been only the very hardiest of Aidan O'Brien's string which have been able to make an impact at the (HKIR).

Few visited more places than the magnificent Highland Reel, who signed off in 2017 with his second victory in the Hong Kong Vase (2400m) while Magic Wand, defeated by just a short head in the 2019 Group 1 Hong Kong Cup (2000m), had barely stopped during a year which saw her travel to Australia, America and the Gulf.

The Irishman's three candidates this year have already demonstrated their hardiness and his strength appears to lie again in the Vase, a race he also claimed in 2020 with .

Stone Age, a beautiful-looking son of the late super-sire Galileo, began the year as his stable's best contender for the Group 1 Derby (2405m) at Epsom and although it was not to work out there, he was a commendable third in the Group 1 Derby Invitational Stakes (2000m) in New York just a month later and was still at the peak of his powers in last month's Group 1 Breeders' Cup Turf (2400m), throwing down a stern challenge before finding only Godolphin's too good.

“We were delighted with him in , he ran a very good race and had progressed from his previous run at ,” O'Brien said. “We've been happy with everything we've seen from him since then. It had been on my mind to go to Hong Kong since after the Breeders' Cup, we thought the track, trip and ground should all suit him fine, we're all looking forward to it.”

As Stone Age is only three, the best could be yet to come, and O'Brien continued: “We think and hope he will [stay in training], obviously we think he's progressing and he definitely could progress again from three to four.”

It seems strange that his other runner in the race, , has not been to Hong Kong already. Among the oldest in his stable at age six, the eight-time winner has been a bit slow from the gates this season, notably when sixth in the same Breeders' Cup contest as Stone Age, but recorded a valuable win in the Group 2 (2392m) at Royal Ascot in June.

“We were very happy with his run in America, he was a bit slow away, got back a little bit and finished off very well,” O'Brien said. “We had it in our heads that we might go to the (Group 1, 2400m), it just came maybe a week or two too early and that's why we waited. We were delighted to have the opportunity to come to Hong Kong with him. He's in good form and is a very good natured, very sound horse.”

O'Brien has never won the HK$34 million Hong Kong Cup despite a few attempts and will be stepping Order Of Australia up to the 2000m trip. The five-year-old's biggest win came in the 2020 Group 1 Breeders' Cup Mile (1600m) and he followed that with sixth place behind Golden Sixty at this signature Sha Tin meeting.

“He's been running all the time over a mile but we always thought stepping up over a mile and a quarter would improve him more,” O'Brien said. “He's obviously by Australia and we're very happy with him, we'll see what happens on Sunday.

“He has won over seven furlongs twice as well, so we kept him at a mile after the Breeders' Cup win, but we'd think there's a pretty good chance that (2000m) will be fine.”

All being well, O'Brien will be in Hong Kong for Sunday's race but has plenty to occupy him at home in the interim in a season which has seen notable successes for his mighty stayer Kyprios and some bright young two-year-old talents headed by Auguste Rodin.

The travelling human squad for his team includes fine former jump jockeys Dean Gallagher and Alan Crowe as well as Rachel Richardson, who was a promising young Flat rider in Britain. He seems hopeful that the horses will all put their best feet forward.

“Obviously you need horses that don't mind travel, have experience and are still in good shape,” he said.

It's a fantastic meeting, we speak to a lot of people who will tell you it's a great day. We always like to be involved and are delighted to be invited, especially for very competitive, high-class racing.”

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