Highfield Princess to throw down gauntlet to Hong Kong’s best

Maddy Playle

03/12/2023 10:32

Highfield Princess is a high class sprinter.
Highfield Princess is a high class sprinter.

A top sprint rarely takes place without Highfield Princess and, in missing this year’s Breeders’ Cup, her trainer John Quinn hopes she can give Great Britain a first win in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m).

It is a race local horses have dominated by winning all but six of the 23 runnings since 1999 and in that time the likes of Borderlescott, Sole Power, Society Rock and Bated Breath have tried and failed for Great Britain. The most recent British runner, Sir Dancealot, finished last in 2018.

However, Highfield Princess is no ordinary sprinter. Having graduated from an initial handicap mark of 57 as a three-year-old, she has become one of the most versatile sprinters Great Britain has seen for many years, winning Group 1s from 1000m to 1300m.

A golden spell last autumn saw her win flagship races in three different countries – the G1 Prix de Maurice de Gheest (1300m) in France, G1 Nunthorpe Stakes (1000m) in England and G1 Flying Five (1000m) in Ireland – in just 36 days. She ended her campaign with a respectable fourth in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (1100m) at Keeneland, and Quinn believes choosing not to travel to the United States of America this year will pay off on his first visit to the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races.

“It was a difficult decision but we purposely skipped it in the hope we could give her the best chance to get to Hong Kong in top form,” Quinn said of his star, who arrived at Sha Tin on Saturday evening.

“She had a hard race last time but she had a very easy week afterwards and she’s a big mare, so she doesn’t need too much time to recover between races.

“We were always thinking this year was going to be a lighter campaign. Her first run was in May and she turned up at every big gig all year and ran brilliantly.”

Those performances included a second and third in the two top-level sprints, the G1 King’s Stand (1000m) and G1 Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Stakes (1200m), at Royal Ascot in June, while her first win of the season came in the G2 King George Stakes (1000m) at Glorious Goodwood in August.

The same month, she came within a length of becoming a consecutive winner of the Nunthorpe, and while an awkward start put paid to her chance in the Flying Five at the Curragh in September, she still persevered to finish fifth.

The resilient mare put that effort behind her with a brave success in the G1 Prix de l’Abbaye (1000m) three weeks later, which came on good to soft ground, but Quinn believes the conditions at Sha Tin will play more to her strengths.

Highfield Princess landed the G1 Prix de l’Abbaye in style.

“If you look in the form book you’ll have to say her best form is on fast ground,” he said. “She ran two wonderful races at Royal Ascot four days apart on quick going, and the ground when she won the Prix Maurice de Gheest was much quicker than the official description.

“I’ve been looking at racing from Sha Tin and it looks a beautifully manicured track.”

The trainer is also confident Highfield Princess can adapt to however the race will be run, with Thursday’s official draw set to inform plans for jockey Jason Hart.

“During the race we’ll let her go forward and find her feet,” Quinn said. “She’s shown she doesn’t have to make the running, she’s very amenable and she can be ridden anywhere. That’s a great thing in a racehorse because if you’re one-dimensional the opposition knows how to beat you.”

While retaining belief in his mare, Quinn is respectful of the local opposition and their stranglehold on the race.

He said: “I saw Lucky Sweynesse win the Jockey Club Sprint and despite being tardy away he won nicely enough. There might be more to come from him. Wellington ran well and so did Victor The Winner.

“They’re very good horses but she’s an unbelievable mare. Everything’s got to go right but I’m not afraid and she’s not out of place. Horses like her don’t come along very often and she’s been phenomenal.”

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