Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Weekend horse racing takes an international turn as Sunday's Longines Hong Kong International Races could see the final runs by superstars Magical and Beauty Generation while a whole new generation starts to unfold in Japan in the Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Filles.
On the U.S. front, Gulfstream Park offers five stakes races Saturday, four of them graded and one a logical prep for next month's Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf. Saturday also is Louisiana Champions Day at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
The big action is in Asia and we'll start there with:
The four Group 1 events that comprise Sunday's Longines Hong Kong International Races effectively close out the year for global Thoroughbred competition. This year, they also may close out the careers of two superstars -- Ireland's magic mare Magical and Hong Kong's own two-time Horse of the Year, Beauty Generation.
Magical is expected to retire to the breeding shed after a run as likely favorite in the Longines Hong Kong Cup. Beauty Generation's plans are less firm after Sunday's Longines Hong Kong Cup, given that the Hong Kong season extends through much of the first half of 2021.
The program also includes the Longines Hong Kong Sprint at 6 furlongs and the Longines Hong Kong Vase at 1 1/2 miles. Newly tightened COVID-19 pandemic regulations prevent casual fans from attending at Sha Tin Racecourse so only officials, owners and their families will populate the massive grandstand.
It's a credit to the Hong Kong Jockey Club that the races are being run at all, much less with such a credible international cast.
The 5-year-old Galileo mare was last seen finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Keeneland and her presence here franks the entire proceeding as first class despite all the pandemic-related issues.
The competition in the Cup includes Japan's Win Bright, Danon Premium and Normcor. Win Bright won last year's Cup but looks more of a long shot this time around.
Hong Kong veteran Time Warp no doubt will set a brisk pace for stablemate Furore, who seeks a third straight win under leading local rider Joao Moreira. Skalleti represents France with convincing record.
The Longines Hong Kong Mile also has last year's winner, Admire Mars, also from Japan. And the O'Brien team sends along Order of Australia, last seen as the upset winner of the Longines Breeders' Cup Mile at odds north of 70-1.
The locals will be watching a horse expected to be the star of Hong Kong's future, Golden Sixty. The 5-year-old has been virtually unbeatable, winning the BMW Hong Kong Derby as a highlight but takes on Grade 1 company for the first time.
At the other end of the spectrum, Beauty Generation may have to give a good account of himself to avoid an imminent retirement. The veteran hasn't been displaying his career-peak turn of foot this season and comes back after a short rest.
The marquee name in the Longines Hong Kong Sprint, contested at 1,200 meters, is Classique Legend, who was sent to Hong Kong after a dramatic win in the rich The Everest in Australia.
Co-rated as the world's top sprinter, he makes his first start at Sha Tin Racecourse and drew the inside gate, which did not bring smiles to trainer Caspar Fownes' face.
Classique Lengend faces Japan's Danon Smash and Tower of London. The local crew has some promising sorts, too, chief among them Hot King Prawn, who seeks his first Group 1 score after several close calls.
The longest event on the card is the 2,400-meter Longines Hong Kong Vase, featuring local hero Exultant, who won the race two years ago and finished third in 2019, and Ireland's Mogul, another from O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard.
Mogul franked his passport with a win in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp in September, then finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Keeneland last month.
The fly in the ointment in the Vase is that there is no obvious early speed in the seven-horse field -- a situation that could compromise the chances of the favorites. Should they falter, the result well and truly would be up in the air.
Sunday's Grade 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies is the first of back-to-back, big-deal events for Japan's top 2-year-olds, with the colts set to take the stage a week later. If the fillies live up to their promise, the colts will have to be on their toes to keep up.
The big field includes three especially promising undefeated fillies. Sodashi, a rare pure white Thoroughbred, already has attracted a following among the enthusiastic Japanese fans.
The Kurofune filly has won her first three starts. Meikei Yell, a daughter of Mikki Isle, also is 3-for-3 and Satono Reinas, a Deep Impact filly, enters with wins in both her previous starts.
Meikei Yell is trained by Hidenori Take, a close relative of legendary jockey Yutaka Take, who will ride the filly in Sunday's race.
"I've known Hide since we were kids," the jockey said. "Our parents are cousins. Would be great to win a Grade 1 race together."
Satono Reinas benefits from the trainer-jockey team of Sakae Kunieda and Christophe Lemaire. Those two were responsible for super mare Almond Eye, who retired after winning the Japan Cup for the second time last month. Lemaire, Japan's leading rider, won four Grade 1 races in November.
Mildenberger tops a field of 10 at Newcastle on Saturday for a conditions stakes that serves as the first Fast-Track Qualifier in the marathon category of the All-Weather Championships.
The winner of the extended two-mile Tapeta contest receives a guaranteed start in the Betway All-Weather Marathon Championship at Lingfield Park on All-Weather Championships Finals Day, April 2.
Mildenberger, trained by Mark Johnston with Franny Norton to ride, was third behind Raymond Tusk in this qualifier last year before recording two victories later in the campaign.
Back in the USA:
Saturday's program features five stakes races, four of them graded, on both turf and dirt.
The $200,000 Grade II Fort Lauderdale, 9 furlongs on the grass, is a logical local prep for the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf on Jan. 23. Ten are entered with trainer Todd Pletcher fielding two well-regarded contenders, Halladay and Largent.
Halladay, a 4-year-old War Front colt, has three wins from three starts at Gulfstream, including the Tropical Park Derby.
He also won the Grade I Fourstardave at Saratoga and finished sixth in this year's Breeders' Cup Mile. Largent, a 4-year-old gelding by Into Mischief, has been competing a rung or two down the class ladder but Pletcher said maturity has helped him improve.
"This is going to be a tough race. This is a prep with some real teeth to it," Pletcher said. "I think if either one of them were able to perform well in here it would certainly tell us that they belong in the Pegasus."
The field also includes such proven stakes runners as Channel Cat, Somelikeithotbrown and Factor This.
The $75,000 My Charmer for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the turf has a field of eight with Lady Lawyer as the 2-1 morning-line favorite.
The 4-year-old Blame filly, trained by Chad Brown, has five wins and two seconds from nine starts and exits an allowance win at Keeneland. Previously raced in England, she seeks her first stakes win.
Seven signed on for the $100,000 Grade III Harlan's Holiday at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. It's a pretty wide-open field and the two morning-line favorites, Tax and Phat Man, drew the No. 1 and No. 2 gates.
Tax, a 4-year-old Arch gelding, was ninth in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup in January but has been idle since finishing fifth in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap in March. Phat Man, a 6-year-old Munnings gelding, was second in this race last year and makes his second start after a long layoff.
Six fillies and mares answered the call for the $100,000 Grade III Rampart at 1 mile on the brown course. The Gulfstream oddsmaker could find little to separate them, putting Letruska atop the field at 2-1. Right behind are Bajan Girl and Sally's Curlin.
The $100,000 Grade III Sugar Swirl for fillies and mares, a 6-furlongs sprint, is even more competitive. Golden Ami makes just her third career starts and seeks her third win as the 2-1 favorite. Cinnabunny, Lady's Island and Aunt Nadine also have claims, per the morning line.
Saturday is Louisiana Champions Day with seven races slated for state-breds. The fields are big and deep with plenty of wagering opportunities. And for those who like their races run quickly, a pair of Quarter Horse races start the festivities.
Saturday's feature is the $100,000 Alex M. Robb Stakes for New York-breds at 1 1/8 miles on the dirt. State-bred fillies and mares face the same condition on Sunday in the Bay Ridge Stakes.
Tampa Bay Downs
Saturday's card has a pair of 7-furlong dirt contests for statebreds -- the $75,000 FTBOA Marion County for 3-year-olds and up and the $75,000 FTBOA City of Ocala for fillies and mares.