The curtain is about to come down on a stellar year on the international stage for Godolphin; just two major acts remain to be played out, and both take place at Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong on Sunday. The stars involved, both bred by Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley operation, head there from different parts of the world and illustrate the global force that is Godolphin. Fine Needle has come from Japan to tackle the Hong Kong Sprint, while Inns Of Court flew in from Andre Fabre’s stable in France last week to run in the Hong Kong Mile. Japan has only two Group One sprints on its calendar and Fine Needle completed the 6f double in September, adding the Sprinters Stakes to his March victory in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen.
This will be his second visit to Sha Tin this year and he has clearly matured since running fourth to Ivictory in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize in April. The sprint division is overall the strongest in Hong Kong and Ivictory, who reopposes, may not even be the best of Champion Trainer John Size’s four runners. That distinction could go to Hot King Prawn, who heads into his first Group One test with nine wins from ten starts, including an unblemished hat-trick this season against the best in town. Trainer Fabre has always been keen to support this final major international fixture of the year, so his selection of the Mile as the most suitable race for Inns Of Court, rather than the longer Cup, is noteworthy.
Inns Of Court renews rivalry with William Haggas-trained filly One Master, who beat the Godolphin colt by a short head in the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp in October and has since finished a close fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. However, they too face a formidable home challenge in the shape of Beauty Generation, who has blown away all challengers at Sha Tin so far this season and took the mile track record when successful on his last start. Beauty Generation is already rated the world’s best miler by the international handicappers and he may yet improve his rating if he impressively becomes the first repeat winner of the race since the great Good Ba Ba pulled off three in a row from 2007.
In the other two international races, the Hong Kong Cup and Hong Kong Vase, the fortitude of the modern Thoroughbred will be well illustrated by the running of Japan’s curiously named Deirdre in the Cup and Prince Of Arran, from Newmarket, in the Vase. Both began the year running at Meydan, and here they are at the last major international event. The 4yo filly Deirdre had no answer to Benbatl in the Dubai Turf, but then nor did anything else, and it was only by a neck that she failed to catch fellow Japan-trained Vivlos, who runs in the Hong Kong Mile, for second place. Deirdre has raced only twice, and has won twice, since returning to Japan, and can be expected to give a bold showing, along with compatriots Sungrazer and Staphanos, as she attempts to become her country’s sixth winner of the Cup.
Ireland, which has one Cup victory with Alexander Goldrun in 2004, is represented by the Aga Khan’s Eziyra, trained by the very discriminating traveller Dermot Weld. She will provide a useful test of top class European filly form, having been placed behind the peerless Enable in last year’s Irish Oaks and Sea Of Class in this season’s Yorkshire Oaks. For strength of character, there is no better example than Prince Of Arran, who began 2018 by giving the relatively small stable of Newmarket-based Charlie Fellowes its first win in Dubai in a handicap in January and will end it on one of the biggest international stages in world racing as its first runner in Hong Kong in December. In four races at the carnival, Prince Of Arran won once and was second once, before making his fifth appearance at Meydan in the Dubai Gold Cup.
He was outclassed behind Vazirabad that day, but Fellowes remained undaunted that he had in his team a horse capable of competing against the best around the world. His season was geared around securing qualification for the Melbourne Cup, and although there were a couple of setbacks along the way, the plan worked to perfection. For a few strides just over a furlong out in Australia’s biggest race, it even seemed that the highest honour was heading the way of Prince Of Arran, but his stamina gave out close home and he was beaten into third place behind Godolphin’s Cross Counter. The Vase will be Prince Of Arran’s 11th race of the year on a journey that has taken him to five of the seven continents. He is already committed to a return to Dubai. Whether he will be bringing a fairytale in his luggage will become apparent at the weekend.