The Hong Kong International Races are upon us! With the Vase, Sprint, Mile and Cup, this rates as one of the biggest individual meetings in world racing with 30 individual Group 1 winners competing in four Group 1 races worth a combined HK$83 million - so make sure to read on for my latest horse racing betting tips.
Despite there being a heavy downpour of rain throughout the week which saw the Happy Valley track rated yielding (an extremely rare occurrence) the weather has been clear for the remainder of the week. The track will therefore be rated Good and should play as normal.
The track normally favours those close to the speed, and having a good barrier draw is particularly important for the 1200m Sprint and 2000m Cup due to the short run to the first turn in both races.
After viewing the races and assessing the barrier draws, the favourites for all the Group 1 races look very well placed and I wouldn't be surprised to see all four favourites win!
The first Group 1 race, the Vase (Race 4) kicks off from 5:00pm AEST on Sunday, December 12
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First of the Group 1's on the card and it's over the 2400m which is a rare distance in Hong Kong racing. Generally inside barriers are the most beneficial here although there is a decent run to the first turn which allows those drawn wide to find a position.
I think the pace of the race should be moderate - Khaya led this race last year but has show a tendency to miss the start recently, while Helene Happy Star led all the way to win a Group 1 over this track and distance back in May, so he could well lead here from barrier 1. Highland Reel led all the way to win the Secretariat Stakes in America and settled 3rd in the Cox Plate so he should come across from barrier 9 and be in the leading pair.
This looks another race where FLINTSHIRE is very well placed. This horse won this race last year and has finished in the top 2 in 7 of his last 8 starts at Group 1 level! His last start he finished 2nd to Golden Horn in the Arc De Triomphe carrying 59.5kg from a wide barrier. He should be able to sit in midfield here and he looks clearly the one to beat again.
Cox Plate placegetter HIGHLAND REEL could pose the biggest threat if he repeats his victory from three starts ago where he won the Secretariat Stakes by 5 lengths. Although he's drawn sticky, he should get across to take up a good position on the speed. The best value in the race might be the John Moore trained DOMINANT with Zac Purton in the saddle. Dominant has a great record over this track and distance, which includes a very narrow runner up finish in the Chater Cup in May. He ran really wll last start and was held up for a run early in the straight; he should enjoy a great run from barrier 2 and could figure in the finsh.
An interesting runner is the French 4YO MING DYNASTY who has won 4 of his 5 career starts. He clearly had an issue when suffering his only loss, but he bounced back to win a Group 2 at his next start so the problem appears to be fixed. He gets tall the favours from barrier 3 and could give this a shake. CANNOCK CHASE is the only other one I could make a case for having won back to back races over 2400m, the most recent at Group 1 level - the wide draw harms his chances though.
Australia's only representative is PREFERMENT and he looks very short in the market to my eye. He is a multiple Group 1 winner but comes off a gut buster in the Cox Plate and an ugly Melbourne Cup. Drops back to 2400m and this is his first time overseas, draws wide and this is a classy field. Has the talent but he looks a bit short to me.
2nd HIGHLAND REEL
4th MING DYNASTY
Interesting race with three Japanese runners, three American runners and one British runner among the field of 14. However, this race really appears to be at the mercy of the short priced favourite Gold Fun.
The barrier draws in the 1200m races are normally pretty important with a short run to the only turn, but it's not completely hopeless if you are drawn slightly awkwardly. The pace in this race really depends on how they choose to ride Peniaphobia from barrier 13. Last start he drew wide and pushed hard early to lead, but two of his best wins have come from off the pace. If they choose to lead again there will be fireworks early. Mikki Isle could come across from barrier 10 to try and be near the lead, while Mongolian Saturday might use barrier 4 to do the same. Notlistenin'tome will be positive from barrier 2, likewise Dundonnel from barrier 1 and Rich Tapestry from barrier 3.
As you can see, there are plenty of horses in this race that will be looking to settle on the pace, so the tempo should be red hot! Lucky Nine looks like he will get the run of the race alongside the favourite Gold Fun - both should settle midfield and let the pace go in front of them. Behind those will come the likes of Sole Power and Charles The Great, while the Japanese pair of Sakura Gospel and Straight Girl should go back from their wide draws.
GOLD FUN has got the form on the board and draws the perfect barrier to win this and justify his short quote. He's had four starts over the 1200m at Sha Tin for two wins and two 2nds, which included a comfortable win in the lead up race last start. He comes down in weight and gets all the favours so should prove incredibly hard to beat. Happy to take the short odds, especially with his main opposition drawn wide.
The main opposition I speak of are PENIAPHOBIA and STRAIGHT GIRL. The only way I see Peniaphobia winning this is if they ride him cold from barrier 13. If they bustle him forward Gold Fun will run over the top of him, but if they ride him cold with the expected pace on, he can win. STRAIGHT GIRL draws horribly but she will go back from that draw and try and swoop from the back. Shes a proven star in Japan at Group 1 level and she finished 3rd in this race last year. Gold Fun will get first run on her which might leave her too much to do.
Outside of that I don't see this being particularly competitive. MONGOLIAN SATURDAY won the Breeders Cup Turf Sprint in America last start, with Green Mask finishing back in 3rd that day. I don't know a great deal about the American form but I doubt its good enough to win this.
LUCKY NINE looks to be a bit of value in the race at 40/1. His last run was super when 4th behind Gold Fun in the lead up sprint, and despite rising 1kg in weight, he gets a dream run from barrier 5 and is a sneaky place chance. I doubt whether any of the other Japanese runners can turn the tables on Straight Girl from their last start, so happy to risk them.
NOTLISTENIN'TOME is in decent form but he looks a shade below genuine Group 1 sprinting quality and he won't be able to turn the tables on Gold Fun, while SOLE POWER is 0/11 over 1200m.
Looks a race for Gold Fun, with the only dangers Peniaphobia, if they ride him quiet, and Straight Girl. Happy to take the short odds for the favourite.
1st GOLD FUN
3rd STRAIGHT GIRL
4th LUCKY NINE
This is the one the crowd are coming to see and it looms as a showdown between two superstars of the mile division - Hong Kong's Able Friend and Japan's Maurice. Was Able Friend's defeat last start a one off or is he not at 100%? Is Maurice good enough to back up his Japanese Group 1 form in Hong Kong? How will their wide draws affect them? Or is there another horse that can spring an upset? Plenty of questions to be answered!
In terms of pace it looks a pretty moderate tempo. The positions in running are likely to be similar to those of the lead up race - the Jockey Club Mile - two weeks ago, though we can expect Contentment to work over from his wide stall which will inject a bit more pace. Secret Sham will roll forward to lead with or without Contentment, more so to ensure a good pace for Able Friend than anything else, while Romantic Touch could also look to settle up there after leading all the way to win last start.
Beauty Flame will get a good run just behind the leaders from barrier 5. I'm unsure where Toormore, Fiero, Red Dubawi, Danon Platina or Esoterique will settle from their respective barriers, but I'd suggest that the latter two will try to settle midfield from barriers 7 and 3 respectively.
What we do know is that Able Friend will be taken straight back to the rear part of the field from barrier 10, and from barrier 11 it is likely that Maurice will join him.
I think ABLE FRIEND will bounce back to his best here and prove once again to be the superstar that he is. His defeat last start, while disappointing, came with excuses, but expect John Moore to have his charge firing on all cylinders for this. The wide barrier won't make a difference to him and if he's anywhere near 100% he should win this and win it comfortably. The $2.20 that was available during the week looked a steal and he is still $2.10 in some places.
MAURICE is the new kid on the block and has been absolutely dominating the middle distance ranks in Japan winning his last 5 races, the last two at Group 1 level. At his latest win he drew barrier 17 of 18 and still won by over a length so the wide draw might not affect him as much. While he certainly looks to be extremely good, I think Able Friend is better especially at his home track.
Outside of those two there really isn't much to look at, but I'm interested to see the mare at the bottom of the weights, ESOTERIQUE. She was disappointing at her last start in America, but did finish 2nd to the world's best miler Solow a few starts back. Drawn to get a good run, she could run well and fill the placings. FIERO and BEAUTY FLAME next best.
1st ABLE FRIEND
4th BEAUTY FLAME
Hardest race of the Group 1's by far. This looks to be a cracking contest over the 2000m with easily more than half of this field having won at Group 1 level before.
This is a race where you really want to be drawn inside of barrier 6 with such a short run to the first turn, and the stats back that up. This race has a clear leader in the Japanese horse A Shin Hikari who likes to set a good tempo out the front so there won't be any shortage of speed! Gailo Chop should slot in behind him from barrier 7 and Dan Excel could come across with him from barrier 8.
Military Attack will get the run of the race from barrier 1, and Blazing Speed will also settle in midfield from barrier 2. With the speed expected from A Shin Hikari out front the field should be fairly strung out, allowing those drawn wide to slot in somewhere. There looks to be plenty of 'get-back' horses in the field such as Lucia Valentina, Beauty Only, Staphanos, Satono Aladdin and Designs On Rome, who should settle at the back somewhere.
Free Eagle and Criterion are the two that will be looking for luck from their awkward barriers, but both could find a spot in midfield if the field is strung out.
FREE EAGLE comes up favourite, just, and if he brings his best form to the race he will win. He has a win in the UK at Group 1 level at 2000m over The Grey Gatsby and two starts ago finished 3rd to Golden Horn. Last start he finished midfield in the Arc De Triomphe, but back to 2000m here sees him hard to beat.The second favourite for the race is last year's winner DESIGNS ON ROME, but I don't think he's had an ideal preparation and comes into this at just his 2nd run back. He certainly needed the run first up over 1600m and I just fear this may be too soon for him again. If he performs to his best he can definitely win but I fear his lack of fitness may see him go down.
Runner up in last year's edition was MILITARY ATTACK and he ran well to record a win in the Jockey Club Cup last start - the lead up race for this. He's had plenty of problems over the last 12 months but he looks back to some good form, and he just looks to get the dream run in the race from barrier 1. I think he's huge odds for this given the need to draw inside barriers over 2000m, and I can definitely entertain him on an eachway basis.BLAZING SPEED won the QEII Cup back in April where he defeated Staphanos and Criterion. Went down narrowly to Military Attack last start but does get a weight swing and strips fitter here. Draws well and can go close if he gets luck.
Out of the Japanese horses the best chance looks to be NUOVO RECORD, who holds a win over Staphanos over 1800m. She comes into this 3rd up from a spell after finishing 2nd at both her runs this prep, and she gets a good draw to go with it. Ryan Moore takes the ride but I wonder whether the 2000m is her best distance. The wide draws don't make it easy for A SHIN HAKARI, STAPHANOS or SATONO ALADDIN.
Australia's best hope comes in the form of globetrotting warhorse CRITERION. Since travelling the world with David Hayes he has come back in tremendous order and his form has been outstanding. He returned to Australia and won a Group 1 first up over 2000m, then ran a very brave 2nd in the Cox Plate before running 3rd in the Melbourne Cup. He's going much better than he was when he finished 3rd in this race last year, and if he had drawn a barrier he would have been a huge chance. Unfortunately barrier 13 makes it very difficult for him but he is a place hope.
This looks to be comfortably the toughest Group 1 of the day and it could go the way of 4 or 5 horses.
1st FREE EAGLE
2nd MILITARY ATTACK
3rd NUOVO RECORD
4th BLAZING SPEED
Take note: Any of the tips in this article are simply the author’s opinion, so bet at your own risk and always gamble responsibly. Also be sure to check out the Before You Bet Twitter Page for all our thoughts in the lead up to bets! Happy punting!
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