Golden Sixty, Wellington, California Spangle and Romantic Warrior head an elite group of Hong Kong contenders for the 2022 HKD$110 million Hong Kong International Races (HKIR) at Sha Tin on December 11, as the overall number of nominations for the glittering meeting grew to 172, including 53 individual Group 1 winners, at the close of entries.
Group 1 winners Sky Field, Russian Emperor, Panfield, Waikuku and Stronger have also joined the HKIR fray, intent on bolstering Hong Kong's quest against a formidable entry of 127 overseas-trained gallopers, featuring 44 Group 1 winners.
Offering record prize money this year, the four Group 1 features – the HKD$34 million Group 1 Hong Kong Cup (2000m), HKD$30 million Group 1 Hong Kong Mile (1600m), HKD$24 million Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and HKD$22 million Group 1 Hong Kong Vase (2400m) – have attracted entries from nine different countries.
Francis Lui has left his options open with Hong Kong champion Golden Sixty, lodging entries in both the Hong Kong Mile and the Hong Kong Cup. If ultimately set for the Hong Kong Mile, Golden Sixty will attempt to emulate Good Ba Ba's feat in 2007, 2008 and 2009 of clinching the feature in three consecutive seasons.
Hong Kong's reigning Horse of the Year, Golden Sixty is slated to make his seasonal return in the Group 2 BOCHK Private Wealth Jockey Club Mile (1600m) on November 20, when he is due to face 2022 BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) and Group 1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m) winner Romantic Warrior and California Spangle, who is also entered for the Hong Kong Sprint (1200m).
Wellington, who resumed with a brilliant win in the Group 2 Premier Bowl Handicap (1200m) at Sha Tin last Sunday (October 23) is among 22 Hong Kong-prepared aspirants in the Hong Kong Sprint, where he could again face 2021 winner Sky Field – who rattled into third place at the weekend – fellow Group 1 winner Stronger and rising talents Lucky Sweynesse and Cordyceps Six.
Apart from Golden Sixty, Hong Kong's bid to land the Hong Kong Cup could rest with a trio of high-class stayers – Romantic Warrior, Russian Emperor and Panfield. Last-start winner The Irishman, More Than This, Savvy Nine, Ka Ying Star, Tourbillon Diamond and Turin Redsun also have been nominated. Tony Cruz has nominated newcomer Beautyverse for both the Hong Kong Mile and Hong Kong Cup. Yet to race in Hong Kong, Beautyverse won the Group 1 South Australian Derby (2500m) as Jungle Magnate at Morphettville Racecourse in May, 2022.
Romantic Warrior, Russian Emperor and Panfield also hold entries for the Hong Kong Vase, along with Senor Toba and Ka Ying Star.
Japan leads the international contingent with 63 entries, including dual Hong Kong Vase winner Glory Vase and fellow top-liners Salios, Songline and Panthalassa, while Australia has 15 nominations headed by Nature Strip, the top-ranked sprinter in the World's Best Racehorse Rankings, The Everest (1200m) winner Giga Kick and Eduardo.
Aidan O'Brien has eight entries, notably Group 1 Epsom Oaks (2420m) winner Tuesday, Order Of Australia and Broome while Jessica Harrington has nominated Group 1 Irish Oaks (2414m) victor Magical Lagoon.
The strength of this year's international entry is evidenced by the might of a phenomenal Japanese contingent, which has risen from 40 in 2021 to 63 this year, and features 17 individual Group 1 winners including Hong Kong Sprint aspirants Gendarme and Naran Huleg, crack milers Salios, Songline and Schnell Meister, Geoglyph and outstanding stayers Glory Vase – the 2019 and 2021 Hong Kong Vase champion – Group 1 Dubai Turf (1800m) dead-heater Panthalassa and 2021 Group 1 Tokyo Yushun (2400m) winner Shahryar and winner of the 2022 Group 1 Shuka Sho (2000m) Stunning Rose.
Australia's representation also boasts Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) winner Durston, Group 1 Australian Cup (2000m) winner Duais as well as fellow Group 1 victors Eduardo, Mr Brightside and September Run – and Giga Kick, who downed Royal Ascot Group 1 King's Stand Stakes (1006m) conqueror Nature Strip at Randwick in The Everest.
Group 1 British Champions Sprint Stakes (1200m) winner Kinross, who is raced by Hong Kong owner Marc Chan, heads the British representation and Ralph Beckett's speedster has been entered in both the Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and Hong Kong Mile (1600m). Raced by Boniface Ho, ruling Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) favourite Deauville Legend is also part of a powerful British entry along with Saffron Beach, Emaraaty Ana and Dreamloper.
Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup (2112m) winner Alenquer could clash with top German stayers Mendocino and Sisfahan, who are also among the entries along with Group 1-winning sprinters Campanelle and Golden Pal from champion American jockey-turned-trainer Wesley Ward. Hong Kong Vase nominee Iresine won the Group 1 Prix Royal-Oak (3100m) on Sunday for trainer Jean-Pierre Gauvin, who expressed a desire to compete at HKIR after the win.
Runner-up in the 2021 Hong Kong Vase, Pyledriver will unfortunately not be competing in the race this year because of health reasons.
Mr Andrew Harding, Hong Kong Jockey Club Executive Director, Racing said: “We are extremely pleased with the full picture of entries for 2022 Hong Kong International Races. Hong Kong's very best horses – Golden Sixty, Wellington, California Spangle, Romantic Warrior and Russian Emperor – are all nominated and it sets the scene for a wonderful meeting on December 11.
“We are heartened by the positive feedback we have already received from our international friends and it is clear that there is tremendous excitement among owners, trainers and jockeys around returning to Hong Kong for a fabulous HKIR.”