By David Morgan
Signs Of Blessing and One Foot In Heaven have proven themselves this season as two of France’s smartest racehorses and both are being pointed towards the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races, the end-of-year Group 1 showcase at Sha Tin Racecourse on Sunday, 11 December.
French interests have enjoyed a long affinity with Hong Kong racing, going back to the days of thrice champion jockey Marcel Samarcq in the pre-professional 1950s. In the current international era, Gerald Mosse has a record eight HKIR wins under his belt, while compatriot Olivier Peslier has seven; and the red, white and blue Tricolour has flown in victory at the LONGINES HKIR more times than any other overseas flag, 14 times, to be exact, thanks to equine stars such as Pride, Jim And Tonic, Doctor Dino, Flintshire and Vision D’Etat.
Francois Rohaut is yet to join that triumphant roll-call of French heroes. Indeed, the Sauvignon handler, a Classic-winning horseman with eight G1 wins on his resume, is without a starter in Hong Kong, so far. Signs Of Blessing could be his first.
“Signs Of Blessing will be aimed at the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint,” Rohaut said. “If the horse is OK at the beginning of December, he will definitely go to Hong Kong.”
The speedy five-year-old gelding has notched three wins from six starts in 2016, the highlight being a make-all success in the G1 Prix Maurice de Gheest (1300m) at Deauville in August. That followed a close third to Twilight Son in the G1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (1200m) at Royal Ascot in June and the son of Invincible Spirit returned to that course and distance for his latest effort, a solid fourth of 13 behind The Tin Man in last weekend’s G1 British Champions Sprint Stakes.
Rohaut believes Sha Tin’s fast, flat, turning 1200m will be more to Signs Of Blessing’s liking. No European horse has ever won the Hong Kong Sprint; Sole Power’s second to the great Japanese sprinter Lord Kanaloa in 2013 remains the best placing.
“The six furlongs and going uphill at Ascot last time was just a bit too far for him,” he said. “On a flat track, six furlongs is his perfect trip, so we were happy with his Ascot run.
“He is a class horse and has proved he is one of the best sprinters around. He has won around a turn and loves good going, so Hong Kong should suit him.”
Alain de Royer-Dupre, a doyen of the French racing scene and a frequent visitor to Sha Tin in December, saddled Pride to win the 2006 G1 Hong Kong Cup (2000m) and Daryakana the 2009 G1 Hong Kong Vase (2400m).
Last year, Royer-Dupre relied on Dariyan, a son of Daryakana, and the colt placed a fine third to Highland Reel in the Vase. This time he is looking to the brilliant Pride to provide him with a LONGINES HKIR contender, in the form of the progressive four-year-old colt, One Foot In Heaven.
“It is very much the plan for One Foot In Heaven to go for the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase,” Royer-Dupre said of the Fastnet Rock colt, sixth to Found in the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (2400m) before scoring in a notable Hong Kong lead-up race on 16 October.
That latest success came in the G2 Prix du Conseil de Paris (2400m), a race won by Ange Gabriel (2002) and Vallee Enchantee (2003) en route to Vase glory. Last year, Ming Dynasty won the contest prior to finishing fourth in the Vase.
“The ground was very soft when he won the Prix du Conseil de Paris but I think he is a better horse on good ground, as he showed when he was sixth in the Arc de Triomphe. The ground in Hong Kong should suit him well,” said Royer-Dupre.
“We will know more in the next couple of weeks, as we will see how he comes out of his win at Chantilly. At the moment, there are no problems with him. He seems to be a horse that is improving with age, like his mother (Pride) did and I think there is more to come.”
The Andre Fabre-trained Flintshire in 2014 was the latest of France’s 10 Hong Kong Vase victors.
The LONGINES Hong Kong International Races are worth a total of HK$83 million and consist of: the HK$25 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m); the HK$23 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile; the HK$18.5 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m); HK$16.5 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m).