The Japanese have undoubtedly had some of the best success of any international contingent participating each year in Hong Kong. Still, the Group 1 Hong Kong Cup (2000m) is the most substantial connection by far. This year, they are primed to make a big statement with five live runners going into the starting gate this Sunday.
The Japanese have been participating in the Hong Kong Cup since the seventh running in 1993. They have sent over 39 runners that participated in 22 renewals of the race. Of those, they have won the race eight times, twice more than any other Hong Kong international race they have routinely participated in.
In 1995, Fujiyama Kenzan broke the ice for the Japanese in Hong Kong before Midnight Bet swooped in and stole it in 1998. Agnes Digital prevailed in 2001, a cracking year for the Japanese, where they went home with three trophies. There was a long lull, but in the past eight years, the Japanese have soared to new heights worldwide, not just in Hong Kong.
A Shin Hikari shocked Sha Tin when he wired the Hong Kong Cup in 2015, but no one was shocked when the mighty Maurice dominated the race a year later. 2017 and 2018 saw the Japanese hit the board, but the domination started in 2019 when Win Bright, who loved Sha Tin so much, also won that year's QEII Cup in April.
In 2020, Normcore became one of only a small number of females to claim the Hong Kong Cup. Last year, the remarkable Loves Only You, who had bounced worldwide, won April's QEII Cup at Sha Tin in the spring and became the first Japanese horse to win a Breeders' Cup race before closing out her career on top in the Hong Kong Cup.
Japan has taken home the Cup five out of the last seven runnings and dominated the previous three years. So what about this year?
Panthalassa's awe-inspiring speed has earned him many fans and even a Group 1 win in the Dubai Turf this spring, though it has had its drawback as well, making him an easy target for closers. He is unlikely to shy away from his usual tactics this Sunday, but on the even ground at Sha Tin, much like in Dubai, he has to stay in the front long enough, and he has proven more than capable against top-class horses. Even when he does get caught, it isn't by much.
Geoglyph took home top honors in this year's Group 1 Satsuki Sho (2000m, Japanese 2000 Guineas), beating out his stable mate, Equinox. Equinox eventually returned the favour, beating him in the Group 1 Tenno Sho Autumn (2000m) at the end of October, where the colt finished midfield. It had been his first start after a five-month layoff, so he should be coming into the Hong Kong Cup in much better form.
In 2020, Danon the Kid took home the Group 1 Hopeful Stakes (2000m), and while he has been unable to reproduce that effort in any of his races since, he ran a gallant second in the Group 1 Mile Championship (1600m) last month in what looked a bumper car race going down the stretch. He will be stretching back out to 2000m again for the first time since his poor finish in the Satsuki Sho last year.
A Group 1 winner over 2000m, Lei Papale, will be making her second attempt at the Hong Kong Cup this year and looking to give Japanese mares their third consecutive victory.
The talented middle-distance mare hit a wall in the middle of last year and is still trying to find her way out of it. She had two good runs this spring, finishing second to Jack d'Or in the Group 2 Kinko Sho (2000m) before finishing second again but even closer in the Group 1 Osaka Hai (2000m) by just a neck.
2000m is her preferred distance, and hopefully, she will get the run she needs to end her career on a high note.
Jack d'Or brings over the mighty power of Maurice back into the Hong Kong Cup. Throughout his young career, the four-year-old has proven to be a 2000m specialist, winning over the distance seven times and finishing no worse than fifth in his other five outings all over the same distance.
The promising young colt was a terror on the lead last year, wiring most of his four wins. He won the Listed Shirafuji Stakes and the Kinko Sho on the lead. He proved outclassed in the G1 Osaka Hai in April when loose on the lead, fading to fifth, but rebounded in the Group 2 Sapporo Kinen (2000m), coming off the pace after chasing down fellow speedster Panthalassa.
In his next attempt in a Japanese Group 1, he again stalked the pace and was only about a length and three-quarters back in fourth this time, a substantial improvement from his first try at that level. The colt is learning and maturing well and will likely be a frequent flyer to Hong Kong in the future and maybe even a regular winner.
While he is the lone Japanese starter in the Cup without a Group 1 win to his name thus far, it won't be long.
With two speedsters and three off-the-pace runners in the race, Japan is locked and loaded to take the Cup to Japan for the ninth time, the fourth time in a row.