Monday, December 8, 2014

Preview: Hong Kong Mile

This week, our focus turns to the International races in Hong Kong, so we'll preview one race a day here before offering our final selections as normal on Friday, which will have taken into account the draw by that point. 

But, for now, we'll kick off this week with a preview of the Hong Kong Mile, a race which has been dominated by the locally trained horses in recent years. 

As should be no surprise, the home team has a strong group of contenders this time around, led by Able Friend, a five-year-old son of Shamardal who was remarkably consistent last season when tallying a record of 8: 4-3-1, which was highlighted by a win in the HK Group 1 Hong Kong Classic Mile over Designs on Rome, who he'd go on to finished second behind in two subsequent HK Group 1s over further. Able Friend had a small setback which resulted in him getting a slightly later start to the season than was originally planned and it showed in his physical appearance in trackwork videos. But despite the setback, he ran a nice fourth on seasonal reappearance despite carrying top weight and he followed that up with an impressive win in the Group 2 Jockey Club Mile, in which he was ridden a touch handier than is typical and looked the winner from start to finish. That slightly handier early placement could be a sign of how he'll be ridden here, especially considering the pace looks like it could be a slow one. It was nice to see that tactical speed from him versus a high class field, not to mention his final sectional of 21.41 was over three tenths faster than anyone in that field, several of whom are entered here. Perhaps more importantly, however, in recent trackwork video and photos, he looks to finally be fully fit and it's now clear visually how much he's really strengthened and matured physically. It's also worth noting that these same connections won the race in 2011 with Able One. The road to the win goes through him. 

According to the markets, Able Friend's biggest competitor comes in the form of fellow locally trained runner Gold Fun -- Hong Kong's Champion miler, who finished second to Glorious Days in this race last season. He's prepped well for this race, having won his seasonal reappearance in the HK Group 3 Celebration Cup over shorter before twice finishing second over a mile behind the likes of Group 1 winner Military Attack and the aforementioned Able Friend. While he may have been handily beaten by Able Friend in his most recent outing, he was carrying five pounds more (128 lbs) than his rival and will be much better off from that standpoint with this race being set weights (126 lbs). The pace here projects to be slow early and he could very well find himself on the lead, but as crazy as it sounds, I don't believe that race shape necessarily suits because he's simply not as quick as Able Friend if it comes down to a sprint to the finish. Add to that he hasn't won in his last five attempts at a mile and this one looks a potential short price to oppose as a win threat. 

Two-time Hong Kong Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon won this race in 2012, but injury forced him to miss last year's edition during what turned out to be a year and a half long layoff. He's ran twice this season and without winning has impressed on both occasions, with perhaps the better of the two runs being his comeback race in the HK Group 2 Sha Tin trophy, in which he was third, just 3/4 lengths behind Military Attack and Gold Fun. The big change with him will come in the form of his jockey, however, as Ryan Moore will get the mount despite Gerald Mosse having ridden him in both his starts this season. He has the talent, but I have concerns based on his two showings this season that at eight-years-old he doesn't quite have the turn of foot needed to win a "sit and sprint" type race. 

Glorious Days is the defending champion of this race. He won it first-up last year and they'll attempt to do the same this time around after not having raced since his sixth place finish in the Yasuda Kinen, which was won by Just A Way. His run there was his best in three attempts and he was up near the lead a furlong out, before fading late while climbing the final hill of the undulating Tokyo Racecourse. The testing ground that day certainly didn't do him any favors either. He was the standout in a recent trial, in which he wasn't asked to do much of anything, but ran on well. 

Secret Sham isn't on par with the best from his country, but he's a likely pace presence here and a consistent enough type over this distance that he could warrant perhaps an each/way look or usage underneath in trifecta plays. His most recent fourth in the Group 2 Jockey Club Mile when on equal terms weight-wise with Able Friend and Ambitious Dragon showed his ability. One small step forward could see him making the frame at what could be a big price. 

The overseas shippers are led by Japanese runners Fiero and Grand Prix Boss. Fiero, a handsome son of super sire Deep Impact, narrowly missed in a head bob last time out despite looking to have momentarily lost momentum when herded on the straight, in the G1 Mile Championship at Kyoto just two weeks ago. He's a genuine group quality horse in his native Japan and he only finished outside the placings once in six starts this season. You can draw a line through his one poor finish, which took place in the aforementioned Yasuda Kinen, in which he stumbled at the start and never recovered. On paper, he fits well in this spot, but the quick turnaround after tough loss in a race in which he was clearly very well meant makes me think this was potentially an afterthought.

A two-time Group 1 winner over a mile in Japan, Grand Prix Boss hasn't won this season, although he did look every bit the winner late in the Yasuda Kinen before being nipped at the wire by the world's highest rated racehorse per the Longines World's Best Racehorse rankings: Just A Way. He tried this race back in 2012 and finished last. This will be the final race of his career and although he's very much a hit and miss type, his best effort puts him straight in the mix here -- whether we'll get that effort remains to be seen. 

Us Americans will recognize Trade Storm who at six-years-old is running some of the best races of his career. After two runner-up finishes, the second of which came at the hands of  the then in-form Custom Cut, Trade Storm broke through to win the Woodbine Mile -- the first G1 win of his career. The form of that race was franked when the third, fourth, tenth, and eleventh place finishers won next time out, which was highlighted by Bobby's Kitten's win in the G1 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. Trade Storm, himself, came back to finish third in the G1 Breeders' Cup Mile behind Karakontie and Anodin, despite momentarily struggling to quicken out of the gate. It appears as if he'd have a bit to find ratings wise with the market leaders here and he's another whose running style would likely not be suited if they do in fact go quite slowly early on. 

Last but not least, we'll give a mention to Roger Charlton's Captain Cat, a runner who gets about as much attention for his unique head carriage as he does his accomplishments. A duel G3 winner this season, he's won five times in his career all of which have been run over a mile. While he is typically held up throughout most of the race, his turn of foot is a devastating one, which could come in handy in a race of this potential slow-fast shape. I do wonder, however, if he's over the top at this point in the season especially considering his race two back was run over very testing ground and he ran fairly flat last time out over the AW at Kempton, a surface over which he typically thrives. 

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