12/07/2017 4:06PM

Hong Kong Mile looks wide open

Hong Kong Jockey Club
Karar will start from post 3 in the Hong Kong Mile.

HONG KONG – The Group 1, $2.94 million Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin historically has been a race for the locals. It appears to be open to about anyone this year.

The Japanese shipper Maurice won the Mile in 2015, but a Hong Kong-based horse won the other 10 most recent editions dating to 2005.

Maurice was a star, and while there are no such standouts in Sunday’s race, neither is the home team especially formidable. Racing luck and sharpness on the day should tell the tale.

As for racing luck, the French gelding Karar had little last out in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. One of three horses Sunday exiting that race, along with Lancaster Bomber and Roly Poly, Karar broke last from post 14, especially troublesome for a horse that likes to lead or race close. All jockey Frankie Dettori could do was sit near the tail of the field and wait, and even so, Karar still lost ground around the turn and into the homestretch, where he finished with good energy for a close sixth.

“I think he looks better than he did in the United States, where his coat was a bit dull,” trainer Francis Graffard said. “He is nice and supple, and his work before leaving France was better than it was ahead of the Breeders’ Cup.”

Karar and jockey Pierre-Charles Boudot have a good enough draw in post 3, but Karar, like everyone in the race, has holes. He is not a proven Group 1 horse, and seven furlongs might be a better trip for him than a mile. And if Karar wants the lead, he will have to work to get it, since the improved Beauty Generation is going forward.

“He’ll be out there in front,” trainer John Moore said. “I don’t think anybody will take him on.”

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Beauty Generation can run better than he did finishing third in the Jockey Club Mile, his Hong Kong Mile prep, a race in which he was slow to break, but it might not be good enough. A different Beauty horse, Beauty Only, won this race last year, but has failed to come close to that mark in three starts this season, though he did show signs of life late in the Jockey Club Mile.

The winner of that race, Seasons Bloom, has improved considerably through three starts this season over his form last year, and jockey Joao Moreira called him his best chance in any of Sunday’s Group 1’s. Runner-up to Seasons Bloom last time was Helene Paragon, whose disappointing training race was followed by a modest turf breeze Thursday.

“After his work this morning we weren’t that happy,” Moore said. “The jury is out.”

Either of Aidan O’Brien’s pair of Lancaster Bomber and Roly Poly could win. Lancaster Bomber has but one victory from 14 starts, but has earned more than $1 million. He loves fast ground, but his second in the BC Mile owed much to an ideal trip. Roly Poly had much more difficult passage and finished up solidly enough after all was lost.

Not to be overlooked is Contentment, who was fifth in the 2015 renewal and fourth last year, and should improve on his lone run this Hong Kong season.

Werther tops Hong Kong Cup

Purse money drives race quality, but there is market illogic in this year’s Hong Kong Cup. At $3.2 million, this is the richest of the four Group 1’s Sunday at Sha Tin, but, frankly, the race lacks depth and high-end quality. There are very good horses entered to be sure, but none to match the leading lights in the race’s rich history.

The 2,000-meter (about 1 1/4 miles) Cup drew 12 entrants, and the Hong Kong-based Werther might be favored. Trainer John Moore, a six-time winner from 103 starters in the Hong Kong International Races, said Werther was his best hope among Sunday’s Group 1’s “by a furlong.”

Werther got a late start to the 2016-17 racing season and hadn’t even run at the time of the 2016 Hong Kong Cup, but he wound up the season as Hong Kong’s leading horse between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 miles. This year, Werther, a New Zealand-bred 6-year-old, has gotten two runs into the Cup and is progressive.

“As far as I’m concerned, he’s fit enough going into the race,” Moore said. “This time there’s been no setbacks whatsoever. He looks a treat all dappled out.”

Poet’s Word makes his first significant ship to run in the Cup, and trainer Michael Stoute has found Hong Kong success before, with a 2-2-2 record from 17 runners. An improving 4-year-old, Poet’s Word was second to Decorated Knight and second behind Craftsman’s tour de force at Ascot in his two most recent starts. He stayed in the quarantine area rather than training the first two mornings as his fellow European shippers went to the track, which is at least worth noting.

Poet’s Word has greater upside than another European 4-year-old, Deauville, who could not capitalize on a perfect trip finishing third in the Arlington Million this summer.