May 25, 2024

Beauty Only bids for Hong Kong Mile repeat versus Breeders’ Cup runner-up Lancaster Bomber

Beauty Only wins his first Group 1 title in the 2016 Hong Kong Mile (Hong Kong Jockey Club)

Sunday’s $3 million Hong Kong Mile (G1) pits defending champion Beauty Only against a trio from the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), led by runner-up Lancaster Bomber, and Yasuda Kinen (G1) conqueror Satono Aladdin. Despite the presence of the reigning titleholder, this shapes up as an open renewal of the Sha Tin fixture.

Beauty Only hasn’t visited the winner’s circle since his triumph here last December, but the Tony Cruz trainee is usually thereabouts. Runner-up to Hong Kong’s ill-fated Horse of the Year Rapper Dragon in the April 9 Chairman’s Trophy (G2), he missed by a nose to Contentment in the Champions Mile (G1). A pall was cast over Sha Tin’s principal mile race of the spring, for Rapper Dragon suffered his fatal injury there. Beauty Only next tried the Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo and ran a creditable sixth to Mile rival Satono Aladdin. Since resuming this fall, the Holy Roman Emperor gelding has had to concede weight to his rivals in all three preps, so his unplaced efforts are a bit better than they look on paper. Most significantly, Beauty Only rattled home well for fourth as the defending champion in the final tune-up, the Jockey Club Mile (G2), and he’ll appreciate the level playing field on Sunday.

But since 2000, when the Hong Kong Mile was first elevated to Group 1 status, only one horse has managed to win multiple runnings – Good Ba Ba (2007-09). That historical factoid, plus the sense of rough parity among the Hong Kong principals, implies Beauty Only may find it tough to repeat. Drawing post 12 adds to the degree of difficulty, although regular rider Zac Purton can minimize the damage since Beauty Only is a closer.

His Hong Kong-based opponents can take further encouragement from the other historical trends strongly favoring the locals. Over the last 15 years, 12 editions of the Mile have gone the way of Hong Kong. Ten were coming off the local prep, so the Jockey Club Mile is typically the place to look for the Mile winner. Seasons Bloom prevailed in that November 19 warm-up, despite a less than advantageous trip out wide. While that marked his first stakes victory, the Danny Shum pupil had competed admirably against Rapper Dragon in all three legs of Hong Kong’s Four-Year-Old Series. It’s tempting to see Seasons Bloom’s emergence as a posthumous compliment to Rapper Dragon, and he projects a better trip from post 5 with Joao Moreira.

Normally Helene Paragon, last year’s Hong Kong Mile runner-up, would have been the one to take out of the Jockey Club Mile. His second under co-top weight of 128 pounds (giving five to Seasons Bloom) was thought to polish off his prep perfectly ahead of the big day. But Helene Paragon has thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into the situation by failing to sparkle in his recent training for John Moore. If the real Helene Paragon shows up, he’ll rate a top threat as the winner of the Stewards’ Cup (G1) and Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (G1) earlier in the year.

Stablemates Beauty Generation (third) and Joyful Trinity (last of 12) are likewise coming off the Jockey Club Mile. Beauty Generation, like Seasons Bloom, is a graduate of the Four-Year-Old Series, and he made hay this fall at favorable weights in the Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy (G2) and the Celebration Cup (G3). He’ll need to step up at levels now. Joyful Trinity, third in last year’s Hong Kong Mile, is still trying to recover his best form since sustaining a stress fracture in the spring. Rounding out the Jockey Club Mile preppers are the Tony Millard duo of Sichuan Dar (fifth), hitherto a handicapper since his importation, and Horse of Fortune (seventh), arguably more effective over another furlong, and John Size’s outsider Western Express (eighth).

Size’s top chance, Contentment, is the lone local to have skipped that informative prep, with his trainer preferring to freshen him up after an uncharacteristic ninth behind Beauty Generation in the Celebration Cup. That was his first start back from flopping in the Yasuda Kinen, and jockey Brett Prebble believed he’d gotten “jaded” following the Japanese trip. One of the leading milers on this circuit for the past three years, Contentment has finished fourth and fifth in the last two Hong Kong Miles, and he’s eligible to be in the frame if peaking in time.

Since Japan has supplied the two most recent international winners of this race in Maurice (2015) and Hat Trick (2005), Satono Aladdin is worth a long look here. The son of Deep Impact has been out of luck in his prior HKIR tries, finishing 11th in the 2015 Hong Kong Cup (G1) and seventh in the 2016 Mile. Yet he’s got an electric turn of foot when things fall into place for him, as exemplified by his career high in the Yasuda Kinen in June. The hit-or-miss type has whiffed in his two most recent appearances, but the addition of jockey Hugh Bowman to the equation may make a substantial difference.

Conversely, the poor record of European invaders has to put a question mark around their representatives. The last one to score in the Hong Kong Mile was Firebreak (2004), technically flying the UAE flag as a Godolphin runner but actually coming off a win at Newmarket.

Aidan O’Brien is double-handed with the aforementioned Lancaster Bomber and Roly Poly, both War Front sophomores who must defy multiple strikes against them. Aside from the European angle, no three-year-old has won this race since its inaugural in 1991, and their chances were further compromised by drawing posts 11 and 14, respectively, at Sha Tin. The Breeders’ Cup Mile hasn’t been productive in this spot either, since you’ve got to go back to Docksider (1999) to find a Hong Kong Mile winner exiting the Breeders’ Cup (where he was third in the Mile).

Lancaster Bomber, Churchill’s erstwhile pacemaker, has compiled an admirable record despite going winless since breaking his maiden last summer. Five times a Group 1 bridesmaid, he has finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), Dewhurst (G1), and St James’s Palace (G1) prior to chasing World Approval home in both the Woodbine Mile (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Roly Poly was an overachiever in 2017, progressing into a three-time Group 1 heroine in the Falmouth (G1), Rothschild (G1) and Sun Chariot (G1) versus fellow distaffers. She was out of luck at Del Mar, winding up 11th to World Approval after a poor draw, and reportedly will retire following this last hurrah.

France’s Karar likewise comes off the Breeders’ Cup Mile, where he checked in a close seventh. The only French raider to lift this prize was Jim and Tonic (1998), and Karar, as a Group 3 winner who’s placed in the past two runnings of the Prix de la Foret (G1), will need to find more to join him on the podium.

So must British shipper Lightning Spear, the two-time Celebration Mile (G2) winner at Goodwood. The David Simcock veteran has yet to snare a Group 1 while placing four times at the highest level, most notably to Tepin in the 2016 Queen Anne (G1) and to Minding and Ribchester in last year’s Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on Champions Day back at Ascot.

The Hong Kong Mile is set to go off at 2:50 a.m. (EST), and is carrying all the festivities from Sha Tin.