This year’s field for the $1.6-million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint (HK-G1) on Sunday could be the most talented ever assembled for the 1,200-meter (5.97-furlong) race, at least according to a group of international handicappers assembled to assess the race.
The race is one of four lucrative Group 1 races on the Cathay Pacific International Races program at Sha Tin Racecourse.
The field of 14 includes nine individual Grade or Group 1 winners, led by two-time Australian Group 1 winner All Silent, who received a majority of votes from the international panel of handicappers as the probable winner.
The six-year-old Belong to Me gelding has won both of his starts this season, capturing the Gilgai Baguette Stakes (Aus-G2) on October 3 by a nose and the Patinack Farm Classic (Aus-G1) on November 7 by three-quarters of a length, both at Flemington.
The other two Australian entrants, eight-time Group 1 winner and 2008 Australian champion sprinter Apache Cat and Horse of the Year Scenic Blast also are highly regarded by the panel.
The American hopes will be carried by multiple Grade 3 winner California Flag, who won the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint by 1¾ lengths on November 7 at Santa Anita Park; and multiple stakes winner Cannonball, who finished third behind California Flag in the Turf Sprint.
Trained by Brian Koriner, the five-year-old California Flag finished tenth in the 2008 Turf Sprint, his lone defeat over his last seven starts for owner-breeder Keith Card’s Hi Card Ranch. Sent off the 3.40-to-1 favorite this year, the Avenue of Flags gelding dictated the pace for the clear win.
Koriner said California Flag has adapted well to his surroundings and is in fine fettle leading up to the race.
“This horse has been great this week,” he said. “He is not tucked up, which is a really good sign for this horse. I'd love him to have been just a little more relaxed as he has been a bit hyped-up every morning, but maybe that's just because he's feeling good. Everybody expects he might go too hard on the speed, but he can come back to the rider. He's just a naturally fast horse."
Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s homebred Cannonball finished third in the Turf Sprint after coming up only a neck short of winning the Golden Jubilee (Eng-G1) in June at Royal Ascot for trainer Wesley Ward. In between, he won the Commentator Stakes in September at Saratoga Race Course.
The four-year-old Catienus gelding drilled handily on the dirt at Sha Tin on Friday.
"He's very well,” said Ward’s assistant, Declan Murphy.”Had a few hiccups with a temperature when he got here first, but he's good now. He'll run well, but this is such a strong race, it's hard to predict how he'll fare."
Australia-bred Sacred Kingdom also was popular with the handicappers and should be with the Hong Kong betting public as well.
The six-year-old Australian-bred Encosta de Lago gelding won the 2007 edition of the Hong Kong Sprint and five other Hong Kong stakes races during the past three seasons en route to being named Hong Kong’s champion sprinter last season.