THANKS largely to such miling superstars as Bullish Luck, Good Ba Ba and most recently Able One, Hong Kong horses have won every running of the Champions Mile since the race was elevated to international G1 status in 2007.

The current crop of milers may, however, find themselves under some pressure to maintain that impressive sequence when Sha Tin hosts the prestigious event for the first time under the sponsorship of German luxury car maker BMW on 25 April.

An impressive group of invaders, some of them seasoned by a spell of desert sunshine at the Dubai Carnival, has been assembled to end the overseas’ runners barren spell. In fact this is the most powerful group of overseas contenders in terms of both quantity and quality since the Champions Mile was opened to international runners in 2005.

“With the support of BMW, Champions Mile Day 2011 will be another successful Hong Kong feature raceday,” said Hong Kong Jockey Club Executive Director of Racing, William A Nader.

“This edition of the Champions Mile, scheduled on a separate day from the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup, has attracted not fewer but more top overseas contenders than ever before to challenge the Hong Kong milers’ dominance in the event. This will be the highest quality Champions Mile ever.”

One of the leading overseas challengers is Presvis, winner of the G1 Dubai Duty Free on 26 March. The 2009 APQEII Cup winner seems to be being targeted by his shrewd trainer Luca Cumani at the Asian Mile Challenge, of which the BMW Champions Mile is third leg.

Another prominent runner among the arrivals will be Royal Bench, trained in France by Robert Collet. His connections are no doubt still smarting from his defeat when runner-up to Beauty Flash in the G1 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile, and the French four-year-old has shown he remains in extremely good form by finishing fourth to Presvis in the Dubai Duty Free.

Australian star Melito is another threat. This Gerald Ryan-trained dual G1 winning daughter of Redoute’s Choice most recently finished second to the prolific More Joyous in the Queen Of the Turf Stakes over 1500m at Rosehill. Her form ties in with that of sprint sensation Black Caviar, by whom she has been beaten twice, so her performance will be watched closely by those looking for indications of just how good the world’s top rated racehorse may be.

Mike De Kock is invariably a formidable opponent whenever he sends horses overseas. This time the South African, whose latest Hong Kong victory came when Eagle Mountain won the G1 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup in 2008, runs Australian-bred 2010 UAE Derby winner Musir, second at the Dubai Carnival to both dual G1 Champion Stakes winner Twice Over and G2 Godolphin Mile winner Skysurfers. Last time out Musir was far from disgraced when beaten just over three lengths by Victoire Pisa in the US$10 million Dubai World Cup (2000m) and may well be suited by the drop in trip.

Red Jazz, third to Skysurfers in the Godolphin Mile, is trained in England by Barry Hills but is in a sense a Hong Kong representative as he’s owned by former HKJC chairman, Ronald Arculli. This consistent international performer at Group level, who won the G2 Challenge Stakes over 1400m at Newmarket on 16 October, has won or been placed in ten of his 14 races.

Completing the overseas line-up is Mufarrh. Trained by Ali Rashid Al Raihe for Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum, this four-year-old won twice at this year’s Dubai Carnival, at 1600m and 1900m. He was beaten just half a length by Skysurfers in the Godolphin Mile in which Red Jazz finished third.

The foreign contingent is certainly strong this year, but Hong Kong’s top milers can never be underestimated. Leading the local team will be Hong Kong’s Champion Miler Able One, now recovered from the setback which necessitated his last minute withdrawal from the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile on 12 December, and Beauty Flash, who stepped nimbly into his shoes by winning that race and two more HKG1s before running behind Presvis in the Dubai Duty Free.

Recently emerging stars like the Caspar Fownes-trained HKG1 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Classic Mile winner Lucky Nine could be more than a match for the invaders if returning to his best now he reverts to what is likely to prove his best distance; and perhaps equally exciting is Flying Blue, the John Size-trained up-and-comer who made the transition to Group company look no problem when winning the HKG2 Chairman’s Trophy over the BMW Champions Mile course and distance last weekend. HKG1 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby runner-up Xtension is another major contender who had already proved himself a G1 horse before his arrival in Hong Kong; and Sunny King, third in the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen on 26 March, is at the peak of his form at present. Sight Winner, victorious in the 2009 Champions Mile, showed he is no back number with his Chairman’s Trophy third. Add in the always dangerous Chairman’s Trophy runner-up Thumbs Up, and the battle between the overseas runners and those trained in Hong Kong looks more and more like an even one.