Numbers down but quality rises in 2018 Longines HKIR entries
The path to the Longines Hong Kong International Races (HKIR) on December 9 is open with the release of the first entries for the four Group 1 races on Wednesday.
Just mathematically, with 191 individual entries for a maximum of 56 runners, the vast majority of these first, free entries won't be there on the day and many of the marquee names are entered as an option rather than a firm plan.
Those first entries from overseas jurisdictions were made hard on the heels of Champions Day in the UK or before major targets in Australia, Japan and the Breeders' Cup meeting in the US, so the plans for all are still fluid.
Japanese supergirl, Almond Eye, for instance, would be a huge attraction with either of her entries for the Hong Kong Cup over 2000m or Hong Kong Mile over 1600m but her appearance seems unlikely when it is considered that her next target is the Japan Cup and a date at Sha Tin would require a sharp drop back in distance. Interestingly, she was not entered for the HK Vase over 2400m, a more logical progression, but a stablemate, Frontier Queen, was.
So the actual entries probably tell us less about the direction of the HKIR meeting than some of the more macro trends, although there was new ground broken with a first HKIR entry from the Czech Republic, third to Cracksman in the Champion Stakes, and connections have indicated a keenness to actually make the trip.
All in all, entries for HKIR are down in number from 293 to 262 but, more importantly, up in the concentration of quality with the international Group winners nominated continuing a trend as they rise from 82 to 95 across the four events.
The French, who were the backbone of the foreign entries not so long ago, have dropped to sixth-ranked entry jurisdiction - with seven of the 10 French-trained nominations for the HK Vase - behind Hong Kong, Japan, Great Britain, Australia and Ireland.
On the flipside, it was not long ago either that Irish entries were minimal but the increased interest from Aidan O'Brien, in particular, has bumped those up to 17 names and includes entries for all four of the events.
Entries from Australia have ticked up despite the quarantine situation imposed by the Australian government in October 2017 that saw entries from down under drop sharply last year. Connections have been getting some encouragement from the club regarding the potential "interim" solution - although it's getting late in the game now without any confirmation - so they've kept the meeting on their radar, just in case.
But the success of Australia's spring racing carnival in Melbourne in attracting northern hemisphere stars might be giving HKIR a second-phase, inadvertent kind of boost.
A number of the HKIR entries carrying the flags of Ireland and Great Britain are currently in Australia chasing the Melbourne Cup etc. Hong Kong might look an attractive stopover on the way home for them, as they are untouched by the quarantine issue, and this is something we have seen as a trend in recent years. Tiberian and Max Dynamite both came out of the Melbourne Cup to run in the Vase last year.
The coming weeks will tell us a lot more about which entries are actually serious before the November 21 announcement of the invited runners.