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HKIR fields are red hot but the champ Southern Legend won’t be there

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The final fields for December’s Longines Hong Kong International Races are just about everything Jockey Club officials could have hoped for but there was one galloper conspicuous in his absence – the mighty Southern Legend.

The Caspar Fownes-trained nine-year-old has strutted his stuff on international day in each of the past four years but that streak is over after the Group One winner was retired on Wednesday.

The Boniface Ho Ka-kui-owned star sails off into the sunset with a shade under HK$60 million in prize money to his name and nine wins from his 47 starts after moving to Hong Kong, including the 2020 Group One Champions Mile and back-to-back triumphs in Singapore’s Kranji Mile.

Southern Legend defeated Beauty Generation in that Champions Mile while his record boasts a remarkable eight Group One placings, including runner-up finishes behind Exultant at 2,000m and Golden Sixty at a mile.

His HKIR record alone is impressive – after winning a Class One on international day in 2017, he went on to produce two placings in the Hong Kong Mile with a midfield finish in the Hong Kong Vase (2,400m) wedged in between.

As versatile as he was courageous, Southern Legend’s final Hong Kong run came when he finished fifth in last weekend’s Jockey Club Mile and he will head to Australia to enjoy his retirement.

“The old champ has done us so proud and he will be greatly missed. He’s been an absolute star for us, he’s won close to HK$60 million and there are so many fond memories,” Fownes said.

“Winning in Singapore, knocking the champ [Beauty Generation] off here and also beating a couple of odds-on pops through his career that looked hard to beat when they were in their prime, he’s done it all and performed so well at the top level for so many years.

“We just felt the other day, he was great going into the race and he pulled up good, but he sort of just went through the motions and didn’t really knuckle down and give us those other couple of lengths, which he normally would have done.

“Both Bon and myself felt it was time and I’ve said it before, when we feel they’ve had enough we’ll retire them and we’ve done that.”

Back to this year’s HKIR and the second Covid-19-impacted international day could hardly be shaping up any better, with 21 international raiders to descend on Sha Tin – up from 12 last year.

Francis Lui Kin-wai has expressed his desire for a sterner test for Golden Sixty to better determine how his superstar miler stacks up globally and he looks set to get it.

Danon Kingly shapes as a solid substitution for the big fish Gran Alegria, who was entered for the Hong Kong Mile but retired after winning the Mile Championship on home soil last weekend, while Indy Champ and Salios bolster the Japanese assault.

Aidan O’Brien’s dual Group One-winning three-year-old Mother Earth is also there and the five-pound weigh allowance makes her an interesting runner.

But while it undoubtedly looks Golden Sixty’s biggest test to date, the four-time Group One winner’s best still looks a shade better than what the raiders have produced and the reigning Horse of the Year should head into 2022 with his winning streak intact at 16.

An impressive win over some serious Japanese opposition – Danon Kingly defeated Gran Alegria in June’s Yasuda Kinen – should only help fuel the desire of connections to target next year’s edition of the Yasuda Kinen in Tokyo.

Elsewhere things look difficult for the home team, even in the Hong Kong Sprint. Overseas fixed-odds bookmakers have installed Japan’s Pixie Knight as the $3 favourite for the race and the three-year-old colt looks like he could be anything after a big last-start win in the Sprinters Stakes.

Wellington, Courier Wonder and Lucky Patch are among Hong Kong’s best chances and just how far the jurisdiction’s sprinting ranks have progressed will be there for all to see come December 12.

The Cup (2,000m) and the Vase (2,400m) are exactly what they should be – an intriguing intersection of European and Japanese form that will pique the interest of racing fans the world over.

Loves Only You headlines Hong Kong Cup as 21 raiders descend on Sha Tin for HKIR

Japan’s Loves Only You is looking to cement her legacy in the Cup, which will be her final race, and her compatriot Lei Papale and Champion Stakes runner-up Dubai Honour look as likely as anything to upset the apple cart.

Glory Vase looks well-placed to repeat his 2019 heroics in the Vase but will have to overcome Aidan O’Brien-trained pair Mogul and Broome as well as Britain’s Pyledriver to do it.

Champions & Chater Cup winner Panfield probably remains Hong Kong’s best chance of pinching one of the distance races in the Cup but it would take a huge improvement on his previous best, while Columbus County, Butterfield and Reliable Team are outside chances at best in the Vase.

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