Visitors travelling first class in search of further Vase glory

Graham Cunningham

29/11/2023 12:00

Russian Emperor continues to fly the flag for the home team’s stayers but the trophy for the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase has been marked for export in eight of the last ten years.

This year’s visitors look a notably powerful group - with four from Japan, two from Europe, one from UAE and a first American raider in six years – and the strengths and possible weaknesses of a wide-open G1 field are analysed in the second ‘Guide to the Global Stars’ Blog:


Japan challenge looms large as Aidan bids for a fourth Vase

Aidan O’Brien is a three-time G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase winning trainer.
Aidan O’Brien is a three-time G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase winning trainer.

Shahryar (Hideaki Fujiwara)

International Rating – 121

Here’s a horse with a highly impressive international record. Shahryar arrived on the big stage by winning the Japanese Derby in 2021 and confirmed that he belonged there with a thrilling success in the Dubai Sheema Classic in 2022.

And the son of Deep Impact has also excelled in defeat at home and abroad, finishing placed in the last two Japan Cups and staying on strongly for third behind Auguste Rodin in the Breeders’ Cup Turf on his latest start.

Flintshire, Highland Reel and Mogul all used the Turf as a springboard to Vase success and that Santa Anita run suggests Shahryar is holding his form well at the end of another busy globetrotting year.


Warm Heart (Aidan O’Brien)

International Rating – 117

With two wins for Highland Reel (2015 and 2017) and another for Mogul (2020) it seems safe to say that Aidan knows exactly what is needed to succeed in the Vase.

And, as a G1 winner by the mighty Galileo with plenty of international experience, Warm Heart has plenty in common with her predecessors. James Doyle was in the saddle for her narrow wins in the Yorkshire Oaks and Prix Vermeille, while Ryan Moore was back aboard when she beat all bar the high-class Inspiral in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita.

Highland Reel and Mogul both captured the Vase as three-year-olds and Warm Heart, who will receive a valuable age and sex allowance from most of her rivals, looks another strong Ballydoyle raider.


Junko (Andre Fabre)

Andre Fabre is seeking further success in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase.
Andre Fabre is seeking further success in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase.

International Rating -117

Take a swift look at this gelding’s overall record, with four defeats in 2023, and you might think he is in too deep here. Then look at his recent German G1 win, where he had an easy lead against just three rivals on very soft ground, and you would probably draw the same conclusion.

But then look at his trainer. Andre Fabre landed the Vase during its G2 days with Borgia way back in 1999. Flintshire finished first and second in 2014 and 2015, while Talismanic and Botanik delivered peak performances to finish runner-up in 2017 and 2022.

Fast turf at Sha Tin will pose Junko another new question and it remains to be seen if his powerful, rounded action adapts to it. Still, a 117 rating gives him place potential. And Fabre fans will testify that, even at the age of 77, you doubt the French maestro at your peril.


Zeffiro (Yasutoshi Ikee)

International Rating – 114

Hong Kong racing fans will need no reminding that anything is possible when Joao Moreira gets on a roll.

The Magic Man rode eleven winners in a single weekend at Tokyo in early November and Zeffiro was the headliner, threading his way through from well back in a big field then quickening smartly to land the G2 Copa Republica Argentina in decisive fashion.

A rating of 114 leaves him with more to do but Zeffiro looks firmly on the up after a summer break – and Satono Crown and Glory Vase (twice) have shown that Joao and Japan in the Hong Kong Vase tends to be a potent combination.


West Wind Blows (Simon Crisford)

International Rating - 113

West Wind Blows has done his connections proud in Australia of late, finishing second in the Turnbull Stakes and the Caulfield Cup before failing to make the frame when favourite for another G1 at Flemington on his latest start.

Dunaden and Red Cadeaux both took the Vase back to Europe as the last leg of their international tours but, with a rating of 113, only a career-best effort will suffice if this Teofilo gelding is to emulate them.


Soldier Rising (Christophe Clement)

International Rating – 111

Andre Fabre did the early work on this Frankel five-year-old but Christophe Clement’s New York base has been his home for the last two years and he heads to Hong Kong with an honourable record in some of America’s best turf races.

But a rating of 111 – and a losing run of nine – tells the tale of a horse who tends to come up short against genuine G1 rivals. And there are several of those ranged against him here.


Geraldina (Takashi Saito)

Geraldina is a well-bred mare from Japan.
Geraldina is a well-bred mare from Japan.

International Rating – 115

If at first you don’t succeed, try again.

A tense, sweating Geraldina failed to do herself justice when a never-dangerous sixth of seven in Romantic Warrior’s slowly-run FWD QEII Cup in April but connections are keen to give this filly another chance over an extra 400m in the Vase.

Stamina shouldn’t be a problem – she ran a fine race for third over 2500m in Equinox’s Arima Kinen last December – and three runs against some of Japan’s best since that frustrating first trip to Sha Tin have all been creditable.

The suspicion remains that she needs everything to go her way but Geraldina’s sire Maurice dazzled twice on the HKIR stage. And if his mercurial daughter handles the pre-race pressure more efficiently this time then so much the better.


Lebensstil (Hiroyasu Tanaka)

International Rating – 115

Improving horses are dangerous at any level of racing and this colt – aged just three with only six runs behind him – is arguably one of the most progressive horses on show at this year’s HKIR meeting.

The Vase will clearly be his toughest test but he relished the step up to 2200m in a G2 at Nakayama in September, travelling powerfully and settling things with authority under Moreira.

Joao didn’t hold back when discussing that performance with local reporters, praising Lebensstil’s “stunning ability” and adding that “there is a high possibility that he will become a special horse.”

And so, you get the picture. Shahryar sets the bar at a high level. But Warm Heart is in prime form. And Zaffiro and the up-and-coming Lebbenstil add a huge amount of interest to what is one of the most competitive Vase renewals on record.

Graham Cunningham

Graham Cunningham chose a career in racing ahead of the law thirty years ago and has never regretted it for a moment.

Nine years with the world-renowned Timeform organization paved the way for a lengthy spell as a reporter and columnist in various newspapers, starting with the Sporting Life and followed by the Racing Post and the London Evening Standard.

Graham also spent a more than a decade on television in the UK as a lead analyst for Racing UK and Channel 4 but moved to Hong Kong early in 2017 and was once employed as Senior Racing Media Content Specialist for the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

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