12/09/2010 1:24PM

Hong Kong Vase a power-packed, wide-open affair

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Barbara D. Livingston
Winchester, Cornelio Velasquez up, wins the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.

Winchester faces a power-packed lineup in the $1.8 million Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin on Sunday. The 1 1/2-mile turf contest will be the first of four Group 1 races on Hong Kong International Raceday, an event that has attracted 24 international Group or Grade 1 winners.

Eight of those are in the Vase, among them the Christophe Clement-trained Winchester, who is the only American horse running at Sha Tin on Sunday. A 5-year-old son of Theatrical, he won the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic over the Vase distance and has since been 3 3/4 lengths fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. There are still questions, though, about his ability to stay 12 furlongs in top-class company. Clement has secured the services of big-race specialist Olivier Peslier for the ride.

Americain, the Melbourne Cup winner, is riding the crest of a five-race winning streak and will be the Vase favorite despite his preference for distances between 1 7/8 miles and two miles. A Dynaformer 5-year-old trained in France by Alain de Royer-Dupre, he did win the Group 3 Geelong Cup going 1 1/2 miles Down Under in October, but he may find the Vase a bit on the short side at this exalted level.

Yet it is possible to shoot holes in the six other Group 1 winners in the race as well. Local hero Viva Pataca is not what he used to be. Fourth in the Japan Cup, Jaguar Mail also prefers two miles. Jakkalberry won his Group 1 in Italy, while last year’s St. Leger winner, Mastery, is coming off a win in a modest 1 1/2-mile listed race on the Kempton Polytrack. Joshua Tree won the Canadian International but was only 10th in the Japan Cup, while Redwood, who won the Northern Dancer Turf, was a neck third in the Canadian International.

In fact, the Vase is a wide-open affair, and the decision may go to the in-form Michael Stoute-trained filly Crystal Capella, who is coming off a 4 1/2-length score in the 1 1/2-mile, Group 2 Pride Stakes at Newmarket on Oct. 16. She will be ridden by Ryan Moore, the winner of the Cathay Pacific International Jockeys Challenge at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.

Vision d’Etat will defend his title in the $2.5 million Hong Kong Cup at 1 1/4 miles. Trained by Eric Libaud, he has run just twice since finishing 10th in the Dubai World Cup but looked sharp last time when he ran second in the 1 1/4-mile Champion Stakes. Breaking from the ideal 7 spot with Peslier on board, he is taken to become the first horse to pull off the Cup repeat.

But he will have to be at his best to repel the John Gosden-trained Snow Fairy, the recent winner of the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup at Kyoto who has been wowing Sha Tin work-watchers this week. So has Planteur, who along with four-time Group 1 winner Stacelita and E.P. Taylor winner Reggane could make the Cup an all-French affair.

In the $2 million Hong Kong Mile, Paco Boy can benefit from the absence of his nemesis, Goldikova. Trained by Richard Hannon, he closed well to be just two lengths fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. His neck second to Goldikova in the Queen Anne Stakes in June is a better performance than anything produced by his 13 Mile rivals. The lukewarm selection with Ryan Moore riding, he must not dally too long at the rear, as has been his wont throughout his career.

Sahpresa, the two-time winner of the Group 1 Sun Chariot Stakes and recently fourth in the Kyoto Mile Championship, is facing tougher, but A Shin Forward, the record-setting Mile Championship winner, is a threat. Good Ba Ba is past his prime, while Beethoven, 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, is in over his head.

The world sprint championship could be decided in the $1.8 million, six-furlong Hong Kong Sprint. The winner of this race in 2007 and 2009, Sacred Kingdom can clinch that title with a victory, but the choice is the Singapore-trained Rocket Man, who is coming off a course-and-distance win in the Group 2 Jockey Club Sprint.

The Hong Kong Vase will go off at 1 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday. The last of the four big races, the Hong Kong Cup, has a post time of 3:30 a.m. Eastern time.