Beware the Jockey Club day results when you line them up on December 9
The rubber hits the road for the Longines Hong Kong International Races today when the invited fields with foreign-based runners are announced.
And that's the first step to new questions being asked about the prospects of a repeat by Sunday's winners of the Jockey Club Cup, Mile and Sprint.
Fans woke up Monday wondering how Beauty Generation, Hot King Prawn and, to a much lesser extent, Eagle Way could be beaten in three weeks' time but even the thinnest of research shows that the G1s on December 9 are horse races and defeat lies around every bend.
That's the nature of racing - nothing seems as ironclad as the race result you've just seen with your own eyes - but few things are as brittle as the confluence of events that led to the finish order and a change in one element of the race changes the whole thing.
How, the average punter will ask, can Pakistan Star - apparently now headed to the Hong Kong Vase - turn around the 18 lengths he was beaten (below) on Sunday by another Vase rival, Eagle Way?
But your eyes, lie, sectional times tell the truth and that reversal can happen and probably is more likely than not. (Of course the bigger question is how either of them is able to fend off the British, European or Japanese stayers who are a grade better than the local stayers year in and year out.)
But when you're looking for the four winners on December 9, history does lend us a hand for races which have now been run for a minimum of 19 years (the HK Sprint) or as many as 30 years (HK Cup), although it's conceded they and their lead-up patterns have changed a little down through that time.
Sunday's three prep races, for example, first sprouted after the turn of the century as a on which improving local horses might stake their claim to international inclusion despite being challenged at the handicap ratings. Until then, the lead-ups to the internationals were the Panasonic Cup, Sha Tin Trophy, Pok Oi Cup and Chevalier Cup. All were handicaps which could be won by lighter-weighted runners which were then passed over for international selection because of their lower ratings. The introduction of International Trial races with set weights and allowances, under the conditions of which the same horse might perform under mild disadvantage, gave them a chance to show their wares for a shot at terms on international day that were another step more disadvantageous.
More than a decade ago, the club opened these races to international competition, to the knee jerk shrieks of local trainers, who felt this was a step away from that earlier intention. But the swathes of international visitors didn't turn up - one or two, yes, and with mixed success but the waves of invaders stayed away until three weeks later.
So that's the path they've taken - what we are really interested in is how they have informed us about the main event. And the truth is? Imperfectly.
In the HK Sprint, for instance, Mr Stunning was not the first JC Sprint winner to win the HK Sprint as well - Silent Witnss did it twice, Sacred Kingdom and All Thrills Too did too - but he was the first for 10 years. In a decade when the foreign sprinters finally cracked the unbeaten grip of the locals, we even had three foreign winners who didn't have a lead-up here, as well as Lucky Nine, who had been to Japan as his lead-up.
In the HK Mile, there looked a closer relationship between it and the Jockey Club Mile that may have ended up closer but for JC Mile winner Able One's scratching at the start on international day as Mile favourite. Horses which won the JC Mile tended to run well in the HK Mile, and the winners of the HK Mile had tended to run well in the domestic lead-up, and that seems logical given the dominance of the local milers over the visitors, but still only two winners of both races, which only improves by one - Good Ba Ba in 2007 - if we took a look further back.
Once we get to the Cup, we are stepping to the outer edge of Hong Kong's powers.
Bar Zac Purton's remarkable pants pull-down of foreign jockeys with Dominant (right), and a win 20 years ago by Indigenous, one of the few really quality 2400m horses Hong Kong has had - he also ran a 2nd and a 7th in a Japan Cup and 6th in a King George at Ascot - the Vase belongs to the visiting horses.
The Cup at 2000m is certainly accessible for the locals but they get a serious run for their money despite home ground advantage.
If you take it back to the earlier history of the HK Cup, the visitors score a heavy victory in the race - it's 17-8 over the last 25, 9-6 the visitors over the last 15 but the locals have held their own 5-5 in the last 10 runnings. So the fact that local form does not stand out generally, unlike in the shorter events, makes the worth of the JC Club as a guide very heavily dependent on the quality of the visitors anyway and this year will have even less of an influence given the winner is going to the Vase (as did Thumbs Up, who managed second in the longer event). But we still only see California Memory having won both races in the last decade and only Vengeance Of Rain did it outside of that time.