Spring Champion Season Begins In Hong Kong

The Kentucky Derby kicks off the Spring racing season and the Triple Crown in the U.S. in a mere week away and features an “any horse can win” theme this year.

But the May 6 Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville is not the first stop on the Spring championship racing calendar. That distinction belongs to Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong and begins this Sunday with the 42nd running of the $2.5 million Queen Elizabeth II Cup 1 1/4 mile turf jaunt sponsored by Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet.

Asia’s premier racing venue continues handing out the hardware and the dollars next Sunday with two Group 1 races, the Champions Mile and the Chairman’s Sprint Prize, both under the auspices of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. The Chairman’s Sprint Prize is included among the 10 races in the Global Sprint Challenge. The horse earning the highest points in the challenge earns a $1 million bonus.

The QE II is tied with the Derby as the Longines International Federation of Horseracing Authority’s 35th rated Group 1 race in the world and this year also features an “anyone can win” air.

There are only eight horses in this year’s QE II field with globetrotting Mubtaahij a late scratch due to minor injury. Still, with an average rating of 122, this is the strongest field in the past five years, and even the sixth-place finisher will be motivated by the opportunity to trot off with $50,000.

The race also features two previous winners, last year’s victor Werther (rated 124, post position 2), attempting back-to-back triumphs, and 2014 winner Designs On Rome (118, pp 1), both running for Hong Kong and legendary local trainer John Moore.

Stormy Spring weather could be a factor in the Hong Kong QE II. ©Richard Gross

Secret Weapon (119, pp 8), Blazing Speed (117, pp 7) and Pakistan Star (112, pp 3) will also run for Hong Kong, while the remaining contestants will represent three countries: Neorealism (117, Japan, pp 6), The United States (Australia, 116, pp 5), Dicton (France, 115, pp 4).

Dicton represents France in the Hong Kong QE II ©Richard Gross

The post positions drawn in the small field give little indication or advantage according to trainer Robert Hickmott, saddling The United States.

“The post position really doesn’t matter in this race,” said Hickmott, though he conceded he would have chosen the number 5 position his horse earned in Wednesday’s random draw.

It is worth noting, however, that both John Moore horses are running from the rail and the number 2 positions. Also worth noting is the unpredictable weather this time of year in Hong Kong, which often features brief periods of thunderstorms during the transitional Spring season. One other advantage might go to the riders. Local legend Joao Moreira holds the record for Hong Kong wins and will seek number 548 aboard Japan’s Neorealism.

The United States preps for his run in the QE II ©Richard Gross

Trainer Moore best addressed comments that his aging sever-year-old star Designs on Rome had little chance of victory at age seven: “It’s a horse race,” asserted Moore, “and anyone can win.”