Horse Racing
Top European stables - with winning history in the race - targeting LONGINES Hong Kong Vase

By William Hughes
29/11/2022 12:58

Aidan O’Brien (right) at the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races.
Aidan O’Brien (right) at the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races.

Aidan O’Brien is no stranger to world record-breaking achievements at the very highest level so when he targets a 2022 LONGINES Hong Kong International Races event with three super horses, rival claimants will inevitably beware.

More so perhaps because O’Brien has captured the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) three times in the past seven years, plus the Irishman’s extraordinary international G1 tally was enhanced three times further at Keeneland’s Breeders’ Cup meeting earlier this month.

No doubt tactical strategies for the 2400m Sha Tin encounter on 11 December are already being hatched for Stone Age, Broome and Bolshoi Ballet, all of whom history suggest have versatile styles of racing.

Two of O’Brien’s previous Vase winners were three-year-olds – Highland Reel (2015) and Mogul (2020) – with both involved in some tough global encounters before they arrived in Sha Tin for the end-of-year spectacular.

Highland Reel lands the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase in style.
Highland Reel lands the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase in style.

Like them, Stone Age competes as a three-year-old colt sired by Galileo. Like them also, he gives the impression he thrives late in the year following probably a career-best run when second in the G1 LONGINES Breeders’ Cup Turf (2400m) at Keeneland on 5 November.

O’Brien clearly applauds Stone Age’s strong constitution describing him as: “A lovely big hardy horse, and certainly not a wimp!”

Advocates of Broome will hope he can repeat what was one of the most memorable races of Royal Ascot’s June extravaganza. That day Ryan Moore not only got him out of the gates quicker than the six-year-old sometimes agrees to, he then rapidly steered him out very wide of his rivals. Up Ascot’s demanding straight Broome then responded with admirable tenacity to win the G2 Hardwicke Stakes (2392m).

Broome wins the G2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot this year.

On paper Bolshoi Ballet looks the most vulnerable of the O’Brien Vase team, so far not having replicated – including when leading before fading in the 2021 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m) – the stylish acceleration he had displayed on occasions last year including when swooping fast and late to land a major US prize, the G1 Belmont Derby (2000m).

A setback earlier this year kept this 2021 Epsom Derby hot favourite  off the track for 335 days but the fact that this four times winning colt  has had this target on his agenda for some months is noteworthy, given the remarkable record of the Ballydoyle stable.

The two French-trained candidates also come from stables that know what it takes to win the Vase. Andre Fabre has won it twice and this year the 31-times French champion trainer sends Botanik in the direction of Sha Tin while Chantilly neighbour Mikel Delzangles – whose Dunaden surged past rivals late on to win in 2011 – runs dual G2 winner Bubble Gift, who has joint second top international rating of 116 behind Broome on 118.

Botanik has won seven of his 13 starts, the career highlight coming when he triumphed in the G2 Grand Prix de Deauville (2500m) in August. Regular rider Mickael Barzalona says: “He’s got plenty of class, and he has lots of courage also. He looks the right type of horse for a big overseas prize like the Hong Kong Vase.”

The other European raider is the German-trained Mendocino – winner of the G1 Grosser Preis von Baden (2400m) in September. He comes from the upwardly mobile Munich stable of Sarah Steinberg and will be ridden by her partner Rene Piechulek, who won the 2021 Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe aboard Torquator Tasso.