Published 2023/12/09



Head-to-heads hold the key as epic LONGINES HKIR day dawns

By Graham Cunningham

The final workouts are in the books and the time for talking is almost over.

A host of international G1 winners has been primed to fight for four G1 contests worth HK$118 million at Sha Tin on Sunday (10 December) and a series of compelling head-to-head contests will play a vital role in deciding who joins the illustrious LONGINES Hong Kong International Races roll of honour.

LONGINES HONG KONG VASE (2400m) Ryan Moore v Joao Moreira as three-year-olds take centre stage The ‘Magic Man’ is back in town on a fast-improving Japanese colt, while Ryan is back in Hong Kong to pick up a fourth LONGINES World’s Best Jockey title and to ride a proven G1 filly with a persuasive Vase profile.

Junko, West Wind Blows, Zeffiro and Geraldina add international older horse appeal but the only two three-year-olds in this year’s Vase have been capturing considerable attention at trackwork this week.

Lebensstil is highly progressive after just six runs and made smart rivals look ordinary in a G2 at Nakayama in September, while Warm Heart is a dual G1 winner and brings a similar profile to Aidan O’Brien’s previous Vase winners (Highland Reel and Mogul) in that she is by the great stallion Galileo and already has plenty of international experience.

LONGINES HONG KONG SPRINT (1200m) Manfred Man’s gelding Lucky Sweynesse was sent off as $1.9 favourite for last year’s Sprint but Zac Purton found himself caught in a pocket for most of the home straight and Wellington took full advantage under Ryan Moore.

Wellington returns with a new trainer (Jamie Richards) and regular rider Alexis Badel back aboard, while rags-to-riches British mare Highfield Princess and high-class Japanese pair Mad Cool and Jasper Krone add further interest.

But Lucky Sweynesse remains the highest rated turf sprinter on the planet and, with several pounds to spare on international ratings, he looks sure to be one of the hottest favourites of the day. LONGINES HONG KONG MILE (1600m) “It’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.”

Abraham Lincoln’s views on the ageing process come to mind as three-time Horse of the Year Golden Sixty bids to land his third Hong Kong Mile at the age of eight and the key facts are simple.

Very few horses are still at their very best aged eight; winning an international G1 after more than seven months off the track is tough; and an extra layer of complexity is added if you are drawn 14 against dangerous foes.

Last year’s Mile winner California Spangle is back again along with a relentlessly progressive Hong Kong hope in Beauty Eternal, while a five-strong Japanese contingent includes proven G1 performers including Serifos and Namur.

But, after 29 starts and nine G1 wins together, Vincent Ho knows Golden Sixty better than anyone.

“When I ask him to pick up there is no turbo lag,” says the Formula 1 fan and new LONGINES International Jockeys’ Championship champion.”

Is the Golden boy’s turbo still firing? Sha Tin will erupt on Sunday if so. LONGINES HONG KONG CUP (2000m) “He’s got everything a good horse needs and he’s got it in spades.”

James McDonald summed Romantic Warrior up neatly after he ran clean away from a high-class field in last year’s Hong Kong Cup and Danny Shum’s gelding wrote another memorable chapter in racing history with his dramatic success in the W.S. Cox Plate (2040m) at Moonee Valley.

But winning on the road is one thing, backing up on home soil just six weeks later is another. Fairy King Prawn followed his trip to Tokyo to land the Yasuda Kinen in 2000 by winning on his first start after heading home but some world-class Hong Kong international G1 winners have taken time to find their stride on their first start back on home soil.

And, if international ratings are a reliable guide, Romantic Warrior must be at his very best on Sunday.

Aidan O’Brien’s triple G1 winner Luxembourg lines up with an identical rating (123) to the hometown hero, while fellow visitors Horizon Dore (120) and Prognosis (119) are close behind and in tremendous form after going close against the best in Japan and Europe respectively.


Photo 1 Golden Sixty pursues history.


Photo 2 Lebensstil is touted as Group 1 winner in waiting.


Photo 3 Lucky Sweynesse is a three-time Group 1 winner.


Photo 4 Golden Sixty is chasing a third LONGINES Hong Kong Mile.


Photo 5 Romantic Warrior surges clear in last year’s LONGINES Hong Kong Cup.