In England it’s long been the Derby, Australia has the Golden Slipper, France the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, North America looks to the Kentucky Derby, and you can throw in a couple of Breeders’ Cup races too alongside all those other senior European Classics: these are some of the pinnacle races that have shaped thoroughbred breeding through the last century and into the current; the races that can make a stallion.
Hong Kong’s majors, for all the quality horses they have drawn down the years, have never been particularly high on that list. But the signs are that times, perhaps, are changing.
Geldings, obviously with zero breeding value, predominate at Sha Tin and Conghua but in recent years the determination of Japanese interests to target Hong Kong’s lucrative G1 prizes with more of their best colts and entires has started to alter how the races are valued in a breeding context.
Japan, as the rest of the world must by now have realised, is a racehorse-producing powerhouse built upon excellent management of the breed. And Hong Kong has been of real importance for two of Japan’s most exciting young stallions: Maurice’s three power-packed wins at Sha Tin and Lord Kanaloa’s back-to-back displays of awesome speed elevated the global profiles of both.
While Lord Kanaloa has so far remained in situ at Shadai Stallion Station, relying on his incredible daughter Almond Eye to fly the family flag internationally, Maurice has continued to clock air miles, covering mares in hemispheres north and south thanks to a deal between Shadai in Japan and Arrowfield Stud in Australia.
Lord Kanaloa has already managed to get a champion. What Maurice will achieve is as yet unknown, but the initial signs are positive.
Maurice covered 265 mares during his first Japanese season in 2017, for 179 foals on the ground. At the 2018 Select Sale of foals, 13 of his progeny sold for a combined ¥587.52 million, a total bettered at that auction by only the great, late Deep Impact, Duramente, Heart’s Cry and Lord Kanaloa. This year, his first yearlings sold well overall and Maurice even topped the Hokkaido Selection Sale, with 13 of his offspring selling for ¥256.5 million.
“Many breeders believe Maurice’s offspring are high quality. The truth of that is shown in the one million yen colt from his first crop which sold at the JRHA sale,” says Shadai Stallion Station representative Ren Kaneko.
Maurice’s first Australian yearlings will hit the sales rings in early 2020. The stallion, who stands for AU$27,500 in 2019, covered more than 270 mares in his first three seasons below the equator, resulting in 148 foals in the past two years. The six-figure sale of his weanling out of Ausbred Friend, a half-sister to his old Hong Kong rival Able Friend, earlier this year provides a hint of how accepting buyers might be in the year ahead.
“We're particularly happy with the quality of the mares he's served, and his first yearlings have everything you'd expect Maurice would impart: size, strength and substance,” says Jon Freyer, Arrowfield’s Bloodstock Manager.
And the rising nine-year-old’s past exploits in winning the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile, G1 Champions Mile and G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup in the span of 12 wonderful months, will no doubt have a bearing on the upcoming decisions of buyers as well as mare owners, given the Australian industry’s close connections to Hong Kong.
“There is great respect in Australia for Maurice as a racehorse, everyone saw what he did in Hong Kong and knows he was rated right up there with the world’s best horses, including Australia's own great champion Winx. And he's simply awe-inspiring in the flesh – one of the most charismatic stallions we've ever stood at Arrowfield,” says Freyer.
That charisma was manifest during his racing days, when even the Sha Tin faithful took the raider to their hearts.
A strapping bay son of Screen Hero, devoid of the pre-potent blood of both Deep Impact and Danehill, things look especially promising for Maurice given the success of Japanese horses globally in recent times, but especially in Australia this year.
“The launch of his first sale yearlings is perfectly timed after the stunning Group 1 victories in Melbourne this Spring by Lys Gracieux, Mer De Glace and Fierce Impact, which have made Australian owners and trainers pay even greater attention to Japanese horses and bloodlines,” Freyer notes.
Maurice has 17 yearlings catalogued for the upcoming Magic Millions Gold Coast Sale in January and the 10-strong Arrowfield consignment includes colts related to the great Winx, G1 Caulfield Cup winner Tawqeet, champion filly Alinghi and dual G1 winner Hollow Bullet, as well as a filly out of a half-sister to Hong Kong’s ‘enigmatic one’ Pakistan Star.
Lord Kanaloa, meanwhile, has already begun to establish a legacy. Multiple G1 winner Almond Eye, ruled out of Sunday’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup due to a fever, is an incredible standout from his first crop of 188 foals, which to date has delivered 128 winners from 160 starters. His three racing crops have brought 255 winners in total, with 2018 G1 Mile Championship victor Stelvio also out of his first crop and this year’s G1 Satsuki Sho hero Saturnalia the star of his second crop.
His son Danon Smash, a G3 winner and G1-placed, will attempt to follow his lead and win Sunday’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint, although surely there is not a horse in the field capable of matching the manner of the great sprinter-miler’s sensational performances in winning that race in 2012 and 2013.
Unsurprisingly, Kaneko admits Almond Eye’s success has helped boost her father’s books of mares and the value of his offspring. But given his imposing brilliance, Japan’s industry players always expected the champion galloper to succeed as a stallion, particularly as he offered a blend of speed to some quality but stout stock.
“We surely believed that Lord Kanaloa would be a success in Japan,” Kaneko says. “There are many middle and long-distance Sunday Silence mares now, so suitable sprinter stallions are desirable.
“Also, the JRA has a lot of two-year-old races under 1600 metres in the summertime and this is very important. That is why we are not surprised by his success and that he is going very well now.”
Outstanding colts and entires are not a new thing at the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races. The likes of Falbrav and Fantastic Light jetted in for the Hong Kong International Races with big reputations in the five years or so either side of the turn of the century and won. But they subsequently failed to impact the bloodstock domain.
In those coming-of-age years for Hong Kong’s majors, when the winners also featured the outstanding mares Ouija Board and Alexander Goldrun, the only winning horse to then make a noticeable splash as a stallion was Stay Gold, Japan’s 2001 Hong Kong Vase winner. The son of the breed-shaping Sunday Silence has sired 856 winners in his homeland from 1,256 starters, including the outstanding if mercurial champion Orfevre.
Also among Stay Gold’s 10 individual G1 scorers is Indy Champ, who, like Maurice before him, heads into this year’s LONGINES Hong Kong Mile with wins in Japan’s ‘big two’ mile races, the Yasuda Kinen and the Mile Championship.
Things have changed in the past decade, and the now regular presence of Japan’s stars, male and female, is some evidence that Hong Kong’s standout races do now hold some gravitas in the ‘stallion-making’ stakes. And perhaps the European perception is shifting too.
High prize money is of course key to drawing top-class contenders from out of their home jurisdictions, and the byproduct of that is that over time those quality runners might lift the prestige of a contest to the point where more horses of stallion potential are likely to compete.
In the past, Hong Kong’s year-end majors have perhaps fallen victim of an ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’ syndrome. Some European connections might have viewed them as a bit of an afterthought; after all, you wouldn't send a Derby winner to race in Hong Kong.
Well, not until now, anyway. The appearance of Anthony Van Dyck in Sunday’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase is some evidence that views perhaps are changing. Aidan O’Brien’s charge will become the first ever Epsom Derby winner to line up at the event.
He is by the all-conquering Galileo and, interestingly in a now increasingly cosmopolitan breeding world, from an Australian mare Believe'n'succeed. Just three months after Anthony Van Dyck won the Derby, his half-sister Bounding made her own headlines with her first foal selling for US$4.1 million at Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale.
If Maurice and Lord Kanaloa can build on positive early signs, the notion of Hong Kong’s big races as stallion-makers could become more than an ambition.
“Winning not only in Japan but also in other countries is very valuable. Their wins were not the exception, and they were very strong wins, and that made Lord Kanaloa and Maurice valuable as stallions,” Kaneko says.
And let’s not forget Akeed Mofeed in all of this: the BMW Hong Kong Derby and Hong Kong Cup victor was a rare colt in the Sha Tin stable block.
He now stands at Swettenham Stud in Australia with a 2019 fee of AU$16,500 and this year his fortunes have taken an upturn. He already has his first progeny in training at his old stomping ground, raising the prospect of his offspring perhaps one day striding out at the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races.
Maurice (JPN) and Ryan Moore winning the 2015 Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile, picture Liesl King