Updated on 12/07/2012 11:03AM

Hong Kong: Vase tops card with four Group 1 races


The four Group 1 stakes Sunday at Sha Tin on Hong Kong’s biggest day of racing will have to do without the best-known horse on the program as French invader Cirrus des Aigles has been withdrawn from the Hong Kong Cup after injuring a leg during training Thursday.

Cirrus des Aigles, who travelled to Hong Kong for the fourth year in a row, was diagnosed with a ligament injury above the fetlock joint in his left front leg, trainer Corine Barande-Barbe said. He’ll be taken home to France, where the injury will be treated. A gelding, 6-year-old Cirrus des Aigles is scheduled to race again in 2013. Locally based Sweet Orange also has been scratched from the Hong Kong Cup.
While the Hong Kong Cup took a hit, the stellar field of 13 entered in the Hong Kong Vase, the deepest race on the blockbuster card, has so far remained intact.

The Vase, contested around two right-handed bends over 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles) includes such noteworthy runners as Bayrir, Chinchon, Joshua Tree, Meandre, Sea Moon, and Dunaden, who won the Vase in 2011. It goes as the first of the major races on a 10-race card that takes place Sunday afternoon in Hong Kong and in the middle of the night in much of the United States. Post time for the Vase is 1:10 a.m. Eastern.

Dunaden beat a lesser field in the 2011 Vase and may be hard-pressed to repeat, particularly since his form coming into the race is not as strong as it was a year ago. Dunaden, trained by Mikel Delzangles, won the 2011 Melbourne Cup before moving on to Hong Kong, but he could finish only 14th of 24 runners in this year’s Melbourne Cup on Nov. 6.

Sea Moon and Bayrir had been considered possible Breeders’ Cup Turf runners, but both were taken out of consideration for that race in favor of a trip to the Far East. Sea Moon won his first two starts this year, including a convincing victory over Dunaden, but was last seen coming home eighth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Bayrir, the Secretariat Stakes winner in August, could only finish 10th in the Arc, which was contested on very soft, laboring turf this year. The Arc going was not to the liking of Meandre, who finished 12th after a good second behind Arc runner-up Orfevre in the Prix Foy. Joshua Tree finished third in the Prix Foy before winning the Canadian International, while Chinchon has been a stalwart of rich international races the last several years.

Cirrus des Aigles’s scratch means the Hong Kong Cup loses a big name, but Cirrus des Aigles had failed to land a serious blow in three previous Hong Kong trips. If nothing else, his defection depresses the price that will be offered on other main contenders on the race, with the Queen of England’s horse, Carlton House, taking significantly increased ante-post betting in England on Friday for the 2,000-meter (about 1 1/4-mile) Hong Kong Cup. Carlton House, making his first trip abroad, will move on from Hong Kong to take up training in Australia this winter.

California Memory won the 2011 Hong Kong Cup but lost six straight races following that success. He looked more like his better self winning a Group 2 on Nov. 18 at Sha Tin, but is far from a sure thing to peak again Sunday. Two French horses, Saonois and Giofra, are fully capable of winning if they adapt to the relatively tight-turning Sha Tin course.

The Hong Kong Mile also drew a deep, competitive field, including Prix de la Foret winner Gordon Lord Byron, who might have run in the Breeders’ Cup Mile if a large supplemental entry fee had not been required. The Irish-based 4-year-old, shipping outside Europe for the first time, runs into talented rivals such as Siyouma – winner of the E.P. Taylor at Woodbine – Ambitious Dragon, and Master of Hounds.

The Hong Kong Sprint features a rematch between Lucky Nine and Joy and Fun, the respective one-two finishers who were separated by a head in this five-furlong, straight-course dash last December.