Hong Kong Diary

With Sha Tin hosting one of Hong Kong's biggest meetings of the year - Champions Day - we've got the latest news heading into Sunday's top-class Group 1 feast of racing.

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The cast list for FWD Champions Day at Sha Tin is exceptional. Sixteen G1 winners will contest three G1 contests and, in Beauty Generation and Santa Ana Lane, the Champions Mile and the Chairman’s Sprint Prize have attracted the two highest rated active racehorses in the world.   

The first G1 contest is due off at 8.20 GMT on Sunday morning and, as ever, all the action will be live on Sky Sports Racing.

SECONDS OUT FOR ROUND EIGHT BETWEEN HONG KONG’S TOP TWO SPRINTERS

The attrition rate has been high in Hong Kong’s sprint division this year but two familiar foes have stood tall as Mr Stunning and Beat The Clock have fought out a series of close duels in top races.

Three apiece with a dead heat thrown in is the current running total but the old rivals combined to mutual disadvantage on their latest meeting with a punishing mid-race duel which opened the door for Rattan to nail both close home in the G2 Sprint Cup.

The chances of another 21.64s middle sectional this time look remote and Rattan will do well to confirm the form on 5lb worse terms with the two G1 winners.

But choosing between Beat The Clock and Mr Stunning is tough. The fact there has never been more than 0.3s in seven meetings between the pair tells its own story. Mr Stunning has had a late scare with a foot issue, which could hand the edge to Beat The Clock, but Hong Kong’s big two will both have their hands full if Australia’s number one turns up in top form.

More on him below.

SANTA AIMING TO SLAY THEM AGAIN

Santa Ana Lane is the Aussie star in question and, although beating Hong Kong’s best on their own patch is seldom straightforward, Anthony Freedman’s gelding looks to have a huge amount in his favour.

First, he’s a proven traveller having covered thousands of miles to win big races all over Australia; second, he’s at the top of his game after a dominant success against a high-class field in the T J Smith Stakes at Randwick three weeks ago; and third, he looked in fine form when completing his final piece of serious work in the early hours of Friday Morning at Sha Tin.

Santa Ana Lane was awarded a career-high international rating of 124 for his Randwick romp. The lack of proven front runners is a slight concern given his late-running style but all the signs suggest that the highest rated sprinter in the world is in the sort of form to emulate fellow Aussie Chautauqua, who won the T J Smith three years ago prior to staging a thrilling last-to-first swoop in this race.

PURTON FEELS BEAUTY IS SET TO ENGAGE BEAST MODE AGAIN

“You know, it should just be another formality for him, really.”

Champion jockey Zac Purton threw traditional pre-race caution completely out of the window when assessing Beauty Generation’s chance of winning the FWD Champions Mile in a Friday press conference but his confidence is fully justified.

John Moore’s gelding is unbeaten since winning this race last year and bids to stretch his winning streak to nine as the highest rated horse in the world this year with an international rating of 125.

Beauty Generation is even better than that on his day, as he showed when powering clear to earn a mark of 127 in the Hong Kong Mile last December, and the stage is set for him to put on another show of strength.

The vast majority of the betting interest will revolve around finding the right horses to follow him home and Conte and Rise High could fit the bill in a race where there is almost £400,000 on offer just for finishing second.

ZAC AIMING TO CRACK THE QEII FOR THE FIRST TIME ABOARD EX-IRISH EXULTANT

The FWD QEII Cup is one of few big races in the HK calendar to elude Purton but the Aussie has a chance to remedy that as Exultant is in the form of his life as he bids to confirm himself Hong Kong’s best middle distance horse.

Tony Cruz’s gelding – aka Irishcorrespondent when finishing third for Michael Halford in Churchill’s Irish 2000 Guineas almost two years ago - has gone from strength to strength this season and renews rivalry with star Japanese mare Lys Gracieux after the pair fought out a stirring finish to the Hong Kong Vase over 2400m here in December.

Exultant rallied tenaciously having been headed briefly by Lys Gracieux and both horses have franked the form since. Tactics will play a part in what promises to be a strongly-run race and there’s no doubt that this is a wide-open race, with eight G1 winners on show and five rated within just 3lb of each other on international ratings.

However, Exultant is clearly one of the strongest home hopes. And, for all that Deirdre and Win Bright have earned their places, recent evidence suggests that Lys Gracieux will prove best of a high-class Japanese trio.

DARK DREAM A LIVE OUTSIDER IF THE PACE IS STRONG

Exultant is far from the only familiar face to British and Irish viewers in Sunday’s QEII Cup showdown.

Battling brothers Time Warp and Glorious Forever have a key tactical role to play – especially if they go head to head for the lead – while Eminent finished fourth in the 2017 Derby at Epsom and is now under the care of Kiwi equestrian maestro Sir Mark Todd.

But one horse who could be flying under the radar is Dark Dream.

Purton probably didn’t have to think too hard before choosing Exultant ahead of Frankie Lor’s gelding and, as in the Hong Kong Derby, the trainer seems to think Furore is his number one.

Lor was right that day and Furore’s turn of foot means he must be respected again.

However, Dark Dream endured a tough trip after becoming edgy at the start in the Derby. His recent Class 1 success in a fast time gives a broad hint that he’s still improving and if the pace is strong he can progress again and shake up some of the better fancied rivals at what ought to be a double-figure price.

Hong Kong Diary
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