Highland Reel will have to be on top form at Sha Tin on Sunday
PICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
Preview: Hong Kong, Sunday 9.35am BST
Sha Tin: Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (Group 1) 1m2f, 4yo+
At The Races 9.40am
AIDAN O’BRIEN’S newest globetrotter Highland Reel will have to be at the top of his game under Ryan Moore to become the first Irish-trained winner in 21 years of the Audemars Piguet QEII Cup at Sha Tin on Sunday, if champion local trainer John Moore’s view of the quality of opposition is correct.
“This is the best field for the Cup that I can remember,” Moore said over breakfast with younger brother Gary on Saturday, as he looked forward to saddling three runners to add to his tally of four winners as the race’s leading trainer.
Highland Reel, who returns to the scene of his Longines Hong Vase success in December but over two furlongs shorter, is 5-1 joint second favourite with Moore’s Hong Kong Derby winner Werther (Hugh Bowman), behind Japan’s leading hope Lovely Day (Yasutoshi Ikee/Joao Moreira) at 7-2, in Ladbrokes’ overnight betting market.
The Vase win over the durable Flintshire completed a three-year-old season for Highland Reel that picked up significantly after defeats in the French 2,000 Guineas and Derby and Irish Derby, and earned him a 2015 World’s Best Racehorses Rankings rating of 121.
O’Brien said: “He’s in good form and travelled over well. I spoke to the lads who are over there with him today and they said all has gone well with him since he arrived there last weekend. They’re very happy with him.”
Moore, whose popularity in Asia is evidenced by his having rides in the five best races on the ten-event card, could well be prominent from the start, with serious doubts expressed all week about what – other than perhaps the outsider and one-paced stayer Helene Happy Star (John Moore/Blake Shinn) – would make the running.
Highland Reel was in the first three throughout in the Vase and led the Sheema Classic until inside the final two furlongs. Most of his seriously-fancied rivals, including the other Japanese hopes Satono Crown (Noriyuki Horo/Zac Purton) and the mare Nuovo Record (Makoto Saito/Yutaka Take), are usually ridden from mid-division, while John Moore’s third runner Designs On Rome (Tommy Berry) is always a hold-up contender.
Designs On Rome, who won the race in 2014 and has come back to form after a blank spell and surgery, is one of three previous winners in the field alongside Military Attack (Caspar Fownes/Nash Rawiller) from 2013 and last year’s hero Blazing Speed (Tony Cruz/Neil Callan).
Among the overseas trainers represented, none has a better record than Mike de Kock, who won with Irridescence (2006) and Archipenko (2008) and was third with Vercingetorix (2014) from his Dubai base. He saddles Sheikh Hamdan’s Australian-bred Ertijaal (Douglas Whyte), who has showed his well-being in steady work after an excellent fourth to Real Steel in the Dubai Turf.
As well as the pace element, the idiosyncratic Hong Kong weather throws up a question mark. Despite monsoon-like conditions during morning track-work on Monday and Friday, the turf course walked on the firmish side of good on Saturday. However, the local forecast is for rain storms, heavy at times, on Sunday. Timing, in both cases, could be critical.
Ladbrokes: 7-2 Lovely Day, 5 Highland Reel, Werther, 6 Satono Crown, 7 Designs On Rome, 10 Nuovo Record, 12 Blazing Speed, 20 Ertijaal, 25 and up others.
*ATR programme starts at 9.15am, with a five-minute delay on broadcasting the race under a ruling of the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
var $facebookBlock = $(‘#facebook’);