April 26 (UPI) -- Sunday's Champions Day in Hong Kong boasts three Group 1 races and the world's co-rated top horse in Beauty Generation while the Tenno Sho (Spring) in Japan -- a race honoring the emperor -- runs just days before a new emperor is expected to take the throne.
Here's a look at the proceedings:
Champions Day at Sha Tin Racecourse comprises three Group 1 races with international challengers for the Hong Kong "home team" and implications for future international challenges abroad.
The star of the show is Beauty Generation, co-rated the No. 1 horse in the world and reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year. The 6-year-old Road to Rock gelding will defend his title in the FWD Champions Mile against six rivals, all of them familiar locals. He rides an eight-race winning streak and the question is less whether he can win No. 9 in a row than whether a victory would propel him to the Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen in Japan June 2, where he might meet that country's reigning Horse of the Year, Almond Eye.
Almond Eye, a 4-year-old daughter of Lord Kanaloa, swept aside all filly competition last year, defeated older males in the Grade 1 Japan Cup and started this season with a win in the Group 1 Dubai Turf on World Cup night at Meydan.
"I would love to go," Beauty Generation's owner, Patrick Kwok Ho Chuen, said of the Japan trip. "Right now, it's 50-50. If he runs well Sunday, the odds might go up. We'll see."
Trainer John Moore said he is eager to take on Almond Eye, arguing, "This is what everyone wants to see," Moore said. "The word's best, competing against each other."
Beauty Generation will be the solid favorite for the Champions Mile and Australian visitor Santa Ana Lane likely also will be well backed in the Grouip 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize at 1,200 meters. Santa Ana Lane, a 6-year-old Lope De Vega gelding, already has accounted for five Group 1 races in Australia, including a 3 1/2-length score in his last outing, the T.J. Smith Stakes at Randwick.
Santa Ana will start on the outside in a field of 10 but Sam Freedman, son of trainer Anthony Freedman, said that's not a serious concern for the confirmed late-running horse. "Better 10 than 1," Freedman said. "It'll let him get into a nice rhythm and space to breathe. The draw doesn't really matter given his racing style and the relatively small field."
The Australian runner faces some formidable adversaries, including Mr Stunning, winner of the Grade I Longines Hong Kong Sprint last December, and fellow Aussie Viddora, who exits a fourth-place showing in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai March 30. Mr Stunning was reported Friday morning with a foot issue and his start was pending a veterinary check.
The third Group 1 event, the FWD QE II Cup, is the most competitive. Thirteen are entered, with wide-ranging credentials, for the 2,000 meters.
Trainer Tony Cruz has the two highest-rated horses in the QE II in Exultant, last-out winner of the Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup, and Time Warp, the winner of last season's Gold Cup, that in track-record time.
Also entered in the QE II are Glorious Forever and Japan-based Deirdre, the 1-2 finishers in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup (G1) in December. Lys Gracieux, second in the Grade 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase in December at 2,400 meters, also returns to from Japan to Sha Tin.
Furore won the BMW Hong Kong Derby in his last start and Derby winners have done well in past editions of the QE II. Eminent was fourth in the 2017 Investec Derby at Epsom and a good second in his most recent start, the Group 1 Ranvet Stakes at Randhill in Australia.
Sunday's Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) at Kyoto Racecourse is one of two events annually honoring the Japanese emperor. This edition comes at an auspicious time as the current Emperor, Akihito, is expected to relinquish the throne April 31, handing over to his eldest son, Naruhito, moving the nation from the Heisei Era to the Reiwa Era.
Likely to be prominent in the race itself are the first two finishers from last fall's Grade 1 Kikuka Sho or Japanese St Leger -- Fierement and Etario.
Fierement, a 4-year-old Deep Impact colt, was unraced at 2 and improved to three wins and a second with the Kikuka Sho victory. He started the current season with a runner-up showing behind Sciacchetra in the Grade 2 American Jockey Club Cup in January at Hanshin. He has been idle since, recovering from what trainer Takahisa Tezuka described as "a slight fever."
Etario has a bad case of second-it is. The Stay Gold colt has finished second in seven of his lifetime starts and trainer Yasuo Tomomichi said he plans to change his blinkers to "a lighter type" for the Tenno Sho in hopes of getting him to the winner's enclosure.
The Tenno Sho field also includes Nikkei Sho winner Meisho Tekkon; Glory Vase, fifth in the Kikuka Sho but a winner in his only previous 2019 start; and Clincher, second in the 2017 Kikuka Sho but still seeking a Grade 1 win in his seventh try at the top level.
The race is run right-handed at 3,200 meters (about 2 miles), passing the Kyoto grandstand twice. Traditionally, the crowd greets the first passage of the field with an enthusiastic wave of applause -- an iconic moment in Japanese racing.