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October 31, 2014
words by STEPHEN HOWELL
photography by HONG KONG JOCKEY CLUB
Luring pacesetting jockeys Zac Purton, Joao Moreira and Douglas Whyte to Melbourne for big-race rides this spring has put some reflected Victorian carnival spotlight on Hong Kong.
For the riders, successful travel to Australia is a bonus on top of their lucrative Hong Kong success — to their pockets, or their reputations, or both.
However, Hong Kong ended up with no equine rep when Cox Plate fancy Dan Excel missed prep races in Melbourne and his campaign was aborted.
Next month the global spotlight will be aimed squarely on Hong Kong for what the Hong Kong Jockey Club calls the "turf world championships", with four Group 1 races, over 1200, 1600, 2000 and 2400 metres at the annual Longines international meeting at Sha Tin that is shown on Australian pay television.
It will have Victorian TAB punters co-mingling with Hong Kong's by betting into the HK international-day pool for the first time under arrangements that finally got up and running this month.
By the way, the Melbourne Cup and five other Flemington races, including the Hong Kong Jockey Club Stakes, will be shown live in Hong Kong on Tuesday.
Whether there'll be Aussie horses running at Sha Tin on December 14 depends on many factors, not the least the results and after-effects of Melbourne Cup week, but there's the usual big entry contingent among nominations that, overall, will be deflated from what really is a wish list when invitations are issued and accepted and, on November 26, announced.
Each year, however, there's a fair sprinkling of first-class horses, mainly from Europe, that come to build on a small, but increasingly improving, local pool—just last weekend HK had three of its 'horses of the year' (Military Attack, Ambitious Dragon and Designs On Rome) going around first up over a mile, and some slick sprinters doing likewise over 1200m.
And two visitors will get an early entry pass to Hong Kong for unofficial international trial races at Sha Tin on November 23: Japanese mare Hana's Goal, who won the All Aged Stakes (1400m) at Randwick in April when ridden by Nash Rawiller, now based in Hong Kong; and Singapore's new star Spalato, unbeaten in six starts from 1200 to 2000m. Hana's Goal will run in a Group 2 over 1600m and Spalato in a 1200m Group 2.
Seventy international Group 1 winners are among the 209 free entries for HK's big December day. They include Japan's world No.1 ranker Just A Way, French veteran Cirrus Des Aigles, British miler Toronado and Irish sprinters Sole Power (trained and raced by Melbourne visitor Slade Power's connections) and Gordon Lord Byron (like Hana's Goal, a winner in Sydney in the autumn.
The Australian noms include Group 1 winners Buffering (for the Sprint) and Criterion (for the Mile and Cup), plus a swag of horses trained by Chris Waller and the David Hayes-Tom Dabernig partnership, although the HKJC does not recognise partnerships so only Hayes is named as the trainer.
Connections of star sprinter Lankan Rupee announced earlier in the spring that they would not go ahead with plans to race in Hong Kong, but would target the Group 1 TJ Smith Stakes (1200m) at 'The Championships' at Randwick in the autumn.
And some overseas runners in the Melbourne Cup are likely to run in the 2400m Vase on their way home, a path blazed by Americain when third at Sha Tin in 2010 and winners Dunaden (2011) and Red Cadeaux (2012).
The Australian entries for Hong Kong are —
$HK18.5 million ($2.7 million) Sprint, 1200m: 9 — A Time For Julia (tr. Peter Moody), Buffering (Robert Heathcote), Girl Guide (David Hayes), Gregers (Hayes), Moment Of Change (Moody), Not Listenin'tome (Gary Moore), Peron (Moody), Rebel Dane (Gary Portelli), Sidestep (John O'Shea).
$HK23 million ($3.36 million) Mile, 1600m: 9 — Boban (tr. Chris Waller), Contributer (John O'Shea), Escado (Matt Laurie), Girl Guide (David Hayes), Gris Caro (Jake Stephens), He's Your Man (Waller), Sidestep (O'Shea), Star Fashion (Hayes), Stipulate (Hayes).
$HK25 million ($3.65 million) Cup, 2000m: 12 — Brambles (tr. Peter Moody), Contributer (John O'Shea), Criterion (David Payne), Escado (Matt Laurie), Foreteller (Chris Waller), Gris Caro (Jake Stephens), Hawkspur (Waller), Junoob (Waller), Slow Pace (Kris Lees), Spillway (David Hayes), Star Fashion (Hayes), Stipulate (Hayes).
$HK16.5 million ($2.41 million) Vase, 2400m: 10 — Brambles (tr. Peter Moody), Criterion (David Payne), Epingle (Michael Kent), Foreteller (Chris Waller), Hawkspur (Waller), Junoob (Waller), Lidari (Moody), Opinion (Waller), Slow Pace (Kris Lees), Spillways (David Hayes).
The full entry list is on www.hkjc.com.
NOTE: Brazilian Joao Moreira leads Australian Zac Purton 21-20 in the Hong Kong jockeys' premiership six weeks into the season that runs until mid-July. South African Douglas Whyte, winner of 13 premierships in a row until dethroned by Purton last season, is fourth with 12 wins behind Hong Kong's Vincent Ho Chak-Yiu (13).
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