The lineups for the Dec. 13 Longines Hong Kong International races snapped into clearer focus Nov. 22 at Sha Tin Racecourse as three final prep races found trainer Tony Cruz holding a strong hand.
Cruz saddled Furore and Exultant to a 1-2 finish in the Jockey Club Cup (G2) at 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles) and confirmed Furore now will target the Longines Hong Kong Cup (G1) at the same distance Dec. 13 while Exultant will go on to the Longines Hong Kong Vase (G1) at 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles), a race he won two years ago.
Golden Sixty continued his progression toward the mile event on the Dec. 13 card with a victory in the Jockey Club Mile (G2). And 6-year-old Hot King Prawn won the Jockey Club Sprint (G2) with surprising ease and looks to be Hong Kong's best hope for the corresponding race three weeks hence.
The international component of the Longines Hong Kong International Races remains uncertain amid COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Whatever talent flies in for the big races, however, the Jockey Club events usually give good pointers to the top locals who await them.
Furore raced third around the stretch turn in the Jockey Club Cup, chasing stablemates Time Warp and Exultant. Jockey Joao Moreira sent Furore past Exultant as Time Warp tossed in the towel and the race was quickly settled. Columbus County was along for a promising third.
Furore captured the 2019 BMW Hong Kong Derby but then went winless for 19 months, though always showing promise of better. He ended the drought in his last start, the Sa Sa Ladies' Purse (G3), also bettering Exultant.
"I've been asked what the key about this horse is," said Moreira, Hong Kong's current leading rider. "But there is no key. I just got on him at the right time. He's flying and he's shown how much class he has got and how well Tony Cruz has got him going at the moment."
"I'm glad they're not in the same race," Cruz said, looking forward to December. "We'll go straight into the International Races with them. We are ready."
Golden Sixty Sails Clear in Jockey Club Mile
The Jockey Club Mile was a tour de force for Golden Sixty. After letting old rival Ka Ying Star get an easy lead through most of the race, jockey Vincent Ho sent Golden Sixty toward the front midway down the stretch and he easily swept by the competition, winning by 1 1/2 lengths with something left for December. Ka Ying Star was second and Southern Legend third.
The victory was Golden Sixty's 10th in a row and 13th from 14 starts as he continued his ascent into the top ranks of local runners. Although he swept the 4-year-old Classic Series that culminated in the BMW Hong Kong Derby last term, he has yet to contest a group 1 race.
"Actually, I think at the moment he's one of the best horses in Hong Kong," Ho said of Golden Sixty. "That's for sure. He'll be competing at group 1 (level) now and hopefully we will be winning next month. That was our main goal and main target from last season and these three races have been a really good prep for him. He's got stronger each race and I'm really happy with how those races panned out for him."
Golden Sixty holds entries in both the Cup and the Mile Dec. 13 but trainer Francis Lui confirmed the Mile will be his assignment.
"At the moment he looks like a champion," Lui said. "But we'll see what form the international horses bring."
Hot King Prawn an 'Improving Horse' After Jockey Club Sprint Win
In the Jockey Club Sprint, Hot King Prawn, a narrowly beaten second in the big race last December, "won with authority," Moreira said. "Not to disrespect the other horses in the race, because some of those might improve as well, but I just couldn't be any happier with him. He's going to December as an improving horse."
Moreira's assessment might have been generous as Hot King Prawn was a bit lucky in the Jockey Club Sprint. A few rivals were badly blocked in the stretch run as he took over in the clear about 100 meters from home and Rattan, who missed the break badly, was flying on the outside to finish third behind runner-up Computer Patch.
Hot King Prawn also might have to improve as next month's field, in addition to any foreign entries, is expected to include recent Australian import Classique Legend, winner of the rich and prestigious The TAB Everest in his last start. Hot King Prawn's trainer, John Size, said he's OK with that.
"It's difficult to assess him from here," Size said of Classique Legend. "We'll have to see him race in Hong Kong and we'll probably get a better guide then."