WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Hong Kong's glamorous international races top the weekend racing agenda with other Grade I action as far afield as Japan and California.
Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos is for 2-year-old fillies while the $250,000 Remington Springboard Mile in Oklahoma on Sunday is the weekend's top open race for the 2-year-olds.
Louisiana Champions Day at Fair Grounds offers eight stakes races restricted to state-bred competitors.
Speaking of springboards, let's dive right in.
Christmas comes early at Sha Tin on Sunday with top-class competitors from around the world set to contest four races on the turf. Three of the four events feature 2014 winners back to defend their title.
The Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Cup at 2,000 meters is the day's featured attraction, with a purse of HK$25 million, or US$3.2 million. Last year's winner, Designs on Rome, will try to make it five straight wins for local horses in the Cup but faces stiff competition from several other Hong Kong runners and a talented group from overseas as he makes only his second start of the season. Military Attack, narrowly second to Designs on Rome in the 2014 Cup, will try to reverse that result and Blazing Speed and Dan Excel also have claims for the home team. Free Eagle, winner of the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot, represented Ireland. Group 1 Caulfield Stakes winner Criterion carries the star-flecked banner for Australia. Group 1 Tenno Sho Autumn runner-up Staphanos heads a tough team of four from Japan and two French runners also could step up. The race features a short run into the first turn and often is run relatively slowly and tactically.
The Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile showcases Hong Kong's brightest star, Able Friend, last year's winner and reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year. The 6-year-old performed poorly at Royal Ascot in June, finishing sixth in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes, and was defeated in his local prep for this. But trainer John Moore said Thursday all is right with Able Friend. "He's there now. He's cherry ripe," Moore said after light work before the barrier draw. Beauty Flame and Contentment, both of whom beat Able Friend in their last race, will try duplicate that effort. Japan has another crack brigade in the Mile -- three runners including the 1-2 finsihers from the Group 1 Mile Championship at Kyoto, Maurice and Fiero. France fields an equally impressive trio. Mondialiste won the Grade I Woodbine Mile and finished second in the Breeders' Cup Mile, seemingly on an upswing. Esoterique was on a Group 1 tear in England and France before getting home seventh in the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland. And Toormore won the Group 2 Topkapi International Trophy in Istanbul two starts back. Germany is represented by Red Dubawi, a Group 1 winner in Italy in his last race.
The Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint at 1,600 meters features two American runners -- Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner Mongolian Saturday and the third-place runner from that race, Green Mask. Mongolian Saturday's victory at Keeneland was a big step forward while Green Mask is proven with a third-place finish against top-rank international competition in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan on World Cup night in March. Neither is likely to be among the favorites on Sunday, however, against the likes of Gold-Fun, Peniaphobia, Rich Tapestry and Lucky Nine from the home team, the venerable Irish-based Sole Power and yet another Japanese juggernaut including three of the first four finishers from the recent Group 1 Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama -- Straight Girl, Sakura Gospel and Mikki Isle.
The Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Vase is the longest race of the day at 2,400 meters and most often the best opportunity for foreign horses. Two of the top contenders this year are from France. Flintshire last year ran second in both the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and the Breeders' Cup Turf, then won this event. This year, he again was second in the Arc but skipped the Breeders' Cup. Cirrus Des Aigles, a 9-year-old warrior, makes his sixth start in the Hong Kong International races. Last year he was a respectable fourth in the Cup. This year, trainer Corine Barbande-Barbe gives him a shot in a longer event. England's Cannock Chase comes to this from a career-best win in the Grade I Canadian International at Woodbine. Preferment won the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes in Australia before tailing off in the Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup. Highland Reel won the Grade I Secretariat Stakes at Arlington International Racecourse this summer, then finished third in the Group 1 Cox Plate at Mooney Valley in Australia in his previous start.
Sunday's Group 1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies will have a full field of promising young fillies, going 1 mile on the grass. Among the likely favorites is Major Emblem, a daughter of Daiwa Major who boasts two wins and a second from three starts. Two fillies by Deep Impact -- Candy Barows and Blanc Bonheur -- show promise. So, too, does Denko Ange, who upset Major Emblem last time out in the Group 3 Artemis Stakes. As usual with 2-year-old fillies, there are several others who have shown promise and could jump up with a big race. The stakes record is held by the immortal Vodka, who claimed the 2006 version in 1:31.1.
Back in North America:
Nine are set for Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos. Trainer Bob Baffert's two fillies, Treasuring and Pretty N Cool, drew the rail and the outside, respectively. Pretty N Cool, a Scat Daddy filly, is a three-time winner, including two graded stakes, but faded badly to finish last in the Desi Arnaz at Del Mar in her last start. Treasuring, by Street Sense, has hit the board in all four starts and finished second in the Desi Arnaz. Stays in Vegas has won four of her five starts. Pacific Heat is undefeated after two runs. Mama's Sugar was a rather dramatic winner of her only other start, that at Del Mar.
Sunday's $250,000 Remington Springboard Mile for 2-year-olds is the marque attraction on a five-stakes card. A dozen are entered for the event. Suddenbreakingnews and Cash Bonus finished 1-2 in the local Clever Trevor Stakes in their last outing and drew the No. 1 and No. 12 post positions, respectively. The race, however, also attracted several promising shippers from Kentucky and should be hotly contested.
In other action:
Fair Grounds heats up the season on Saturday with eight stakes races for Louisiana-breds, topped by the $150,000 Classic at 9 furlongs.
Gulfstream Park has four $100,000 stakes events on the Saturday program, including the Grade III Rampart Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 mile on the main track.