12/07/2016 11:06AM

A Shin Hikari meets Maurice in defense of Hong Kong Cup title

Hong Kong Jockey Club
A Shin Hikari returns to Sha Tin to defend his 2015 Hong Kong Cup win.

HONG KONG – A Shin Hikari can act goofy at times. Many other times, he acts like one of the best racehorses in the world, and on Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse, he will attempt to become just the second horse to win consecutive editions of the $3.2 million Hong Kong Cup.

A Shin Hikari is one of 13 entrants in the 2,000-meter Hong Kong Cup, the richest of the four Group 1 races slated for Sunday afternoon at Sha Tin. The final fields were to be assembled and post positions drawn here late Thursday morning, which is Wednesday night on the East Coast of the U.S., 13 hours behind Hong Kong time.

California Memory won the Hong Kong Cup in 2011 and 2012, the only back-to-back winner of the race and one of four straight locally trained victors. The string of local success ended last year with A Shin Hikari, but the most likely winner Sunday is another Japan-based horse, Maurice. Maurice, who is making his final start in the Cup, comes off a dominant win in the Group 1 Autumn Tenno Sho at Tokyo Racecourse, a race in which A Shin Hikari set the pace but faded tamely to 12th.

That performance was a far cry from his one-length win here a year ago in the Cup, a 37-1 upset that appeared to be validated when A Shin Hikari returned in the spring to win the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan by 10 lengths. But A Shin Hikari disappointed at Royal Ascot and failed to bounce back to form in the Tenno Sho, and expectations this weekend surely are lower.

“He usually has a difficult temperament, but he has settled well and is happy enough in the surroundings,” trainer Masanori Sakaguchi said. “So far, all has gone as planned.”

Maurice won the Hong Kong Mile here a year ago but has been stretched out to 1 1/4 miles for his last two starts, leaving this year’s $3 million Mile a muddled affair. Two more Japanese shippers, Logotype and Neorealism, rate chances, and Able Friend, the 7-year-old Hong Kong star, is trying to recapture old glory. Able Friend won this race two years ago, but he has gotten only one race in coming back from two injuries, and trainer John Moore has been clear that he had hoped for a second prep leading into Sunday’s race.

Highland Reel, who has looked his typical solid self here this week, comes off a win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf and is the defending champion in the $2.1 million Vase over about 1 1/2 miles. One Foot In Heaven was harboring an illness earlier in the week after shipping from France and as of Wednesday was an uncertain runner in the Vase.

The $2.4 million Sprint includes the lone American runner here, Pure Sensation, the third-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in his most recent start. Pure Sensation had an easy day Wednesday after working on turf Tuesday for trainer Christophe Clement.

A year after a rainy week turned the Sha Tin course wet for the Hong Kong International Races, the forecast is much better, with dry weather forecast for the remainder of the week and race day and the Sha Tin course good to firm.

◗ The Australian jockey Hugh Bowman, on the strength of a first and a second from four mounts, was the winner Wednesday night at Happy Valley of the Longines International Jockeys’ Championship. Bowman accumulated 18 points, four more than Ryan Moore.

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