A Place in the World’s Top 100 Races

Howard Wright

05/12/2023 15:30

Measuring levels of competition in horseracing has been one of the sport’s greatest fascinations for years. For the last 11 of those years there has been a recognised way of comparing individual events, and in this respect the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races come out well.

Having introduced a league table of the year’s top 50 Group or Grade 1 races in 2013, the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities extended the list to 100 two years later, using a basis of the average end-of-year ratings for the first four finishers in each qualifying event around the world.

Positions in the table were decided on a three-year average for the first two years, before annual publication of the results provided a more immediate and obvious picture of placings. However, since the IFHA statisticians delved back to 2012 to produce figures, 44 spots have been opened up for the four HKIR qualifiers to make their mark, and to their huge credit, they have missed the target only three times, with extenuating circumstances on at least two occasions.

The G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m) is Hong Kong’s leading race for 2022.
The G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m) is Hong Kong’s leading race for 2022.

Restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic and quarantine difficulties for Australian horses that were outside the control of Hong Kong Jockey Club officials affected the 2020 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint, won by Danon Smash. The pre-race chances – and therefore the ratings - of the first four were reflected by their odds of 22, 84, 23 and 42, with the strong favourite Hot King Prawn only seventh and second favourite Classique Legend 11th.

Such positioning could hardly be expected to do anything other than demote the Sprint, but worse was to follow in the 2021 race, when rank outsider Amazing Star fell at the head of the field cornering for home and brought down three others, including the favourite Lucky Patch.

The only other no-show for HKIR came in last year’s LONGINES Hong Kong Vase, won by the Japanese filly Win Marilyn from France’s Botanik, the veteran dual race winner Glory Vase, also for Japan, and Tony Millard-trained Panfield. By finishing fifth, the strong favourite Stone Age, from Ireland, failed to make his rating count.

However, those three blanks apart, the HKIR experience in taking 41 places out of a possible 44 in the World’s Top 100 Races is a compliment to the HKJC’s programming of four Group 1 races on a single day, which in international terms is matched only by the Dubai World Cup meeting in late-March.

HKIR began with a single race in 1988 and progressed from inviting horses from Singapore and Malaysia to accommodating those from Australia and New Zealand and finally the rest of the world in 1999, when the Cup became Hong Kong’s first Group 1 race. The Vase was the second international race to be included in 1994, followed by the Sprint and the Mile in its current guise five years later. All the while, HKIR quality has become better established, as the Top 100 Races placings demonstrate.

The Sprint began with a mark of 115.25 in 2012 and steadily climbed to 120.00. The Mile and the Cup, which started the sequence at 119.75 and 119.50 respectively, have performed remarkably consistently throughout, while the Vase, which commenced on 116.50 and reached a high point of 121.00, has turned in a powerful performance, allowing that Hong Kong has only a small programme for stayers.

A Shin Hikari wins the 2015 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup in style.

Which have been the best races over this period, based on the seasonal IFHA ratings? That is a question that would go down well with quiz buffs among racing fans. Look away now, but the answers are: the 2019 Sprint won by Beat The Clock, at 120.00; the 2015 Mile won by Maurice, at 120.50; the 2015 Cup won by A Shin Hikari, at 121.75, and the 2014 Vase won by Flintshire, at 121.00.

It seems only appropriate that the highest ranking of all should come in the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup, now the jurisdiction’s richest race and rightly described as the cornerstone of HKIR. A Shin Hikari blazed a trail under Yutaka Take in 2015 and was not for catching, getting the field strung out and beating fellow Japanese runner Nuova Record in a record time of 2min 0.60sec, which held for three years but was blown out of the water by Romantic Warrior’s 1min 59.70 last year.

With Romantic Warrior back for the Cup and having made Hong Kong history by winning the Cox Plate in Australia, will this year’s HKIR stand up to the test of the World’s Top 100 Races table?

Going into the races, the top four highest-rated horses provide average figures of 118 for the Sprint, 121 for the Mile, 120.25 for the Cup and 116.75 for the Vase, so the portents are good. Sunday 10 December at Sha Tin will provide the answers.

Howard Wright

Howard Wright completed 50 years in racing journalism in June 2014, having started at Timeform and later the Daily Telegraph in London before becoming a founder member of staff at the Racing Post in 1986. He retired as the Post’s industry editor in July 2012, but continues to write for the paper, as well as other international media, including Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder and Thoroughbred Racing Commentary. Aside from media work, he has been a trustee of the UK’s stable-staff training centre the Northern Racing College since 1990, and vice-chairman since 2004, and was a member of Britain’s Flat Pattern Committee from 1986-2009.

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