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The Bel Esprit- Song of the Sun filly galloped well on Saturday morning stopping the clock for the last 400 metres in 24.5 seconds. She is in great order and will have a strong gallop again this Saturday en route to a barrier trial on Tuesday 12th May. She is enjoying barrier practice on alternate days.
Hall Of Fame trainer Lee Freedman and his brothers Anthony and Richard conducted a fund-raising phantom race meeting at Breezes at Crown on Friday.
The purpose of the day was to raise money for ‘focus’, the organisation that cares for their mentally-disabled brother Mark.
The Freedmans were joined by family and a big turnout of friends, and past and present clients. The gathering raised $34,000 for the charity.
The highlight of the day was the phantom races run over 1200m, 1600m and 2400m that featured 36 of the Freedmans’ greatest horses – Lee Freedman has trained 57 individual Group 1 winners of 123 Group 1 races.
The “racebook” for the function was produced by the Slattery Media Group. The book features the career highlights and pertinent comments from Lee on each horse.
The winners of two of the races are not hard to find – Super Impose is the top miler and Makybe Diva the top-ranked stayer – but the sprint race was always going to divided by loyalties between the great grey Schillaci and the mare Miss Andretti – and to some people’s surprise, the mare gets the nod in a photo finish.
If you are wondering why some horses – the Group 2 winner Royal Asscher is an example – made the fields, the Freedmans obviously favoured horses owned by current clients who were attending the function.
The results were:
Crown Mile – Super Impose 1, Flying Spur 2, Sphenophyta 3.
Markdel Sprint: Miss Andretti 1, Schillaci 2, Alinghi 3.
Paspaley Cup: Makybe Diva 1, Mummify 2, Doriemus 3.
View the RACEBOOK.
You can also listen to Bryan Martin’s call by clicking on the audio icon preceding each race.
Race 1. The Crown Mile (1600m)
3. Encosta De Lago
4. Flying Spur
5. Marble Halls
6. Mr Murphy
7. Northwood Plume
8. Poetic King
12. Super Impose
Race 2. Markdel Sprint (1200m)
2. Bint Marscay
5. Gold Ace
8. Miss Andretti
9. Royal Asscher
11. Super Impressive
12. Universal Queen
Race 3. Paspaley Cup (2400m)
2. Don Eduardo
4. Makybe Diva
8. Paris Lane
9. Serenade Rose
10. Special Harmony
David Price, who has dined out on the amazing successes of Silent Witness for years, now has an after-dinner talking point – Sight Winner, the winner of the Group 1 Champions Mile (1600m) at Hong Kong’s Sha Tin track at on Sunday.
Victorian Price, a bloodstock agent and punter who has lived in Hong Kong since 1993, sold Silent Witness (B g 1999, El Moxie (USA)-Jade Tiara, by Bureaucracy (NZ)) to Hong Kong for an undisclosed sum – he was a $55,000 yearling at the Inglis Classic Sale – after the gelding had been prepared by David Hall at Flemington.
Silent Witness trialled but did not race.
In Hong Kong, the sprinter became a hero, winning his first 17 starts from December 2002, but netting only one more before retirement in February 2007 – he finished 18 from 29 and earned more than $HK62 million ($12 million-plus) in prize money for owner Archie da Silva, who then placed him at Living Legends, the “retirement home” for champion thoroughbreds, at Oaklands Junction on the outskirts of Melbourne.
Price said he bought up to a dozen horses for Hong Kong each year in Australia and New Zealand, which collectively provide some 70 per cent of Hong Kong’s 1100-plus racehorses.
Hong Kong’s international spokesman, Mark Player, said the Australian and New Zealand horses were regarded as tough, durable sprinter-milers suited to the type of races and closeted environment that marks Hong Kong racing. “The horses are stabled all day, they’re exercised in the morning and may get a walk in the afternoon,” Player said. “That’s very limited variation in the training pattern, and you need resilience, toughness. Australian horses have that.”
Price and his wife Jenny Chapman, a former rider who does mounting yard reports on all Hong Kong races seen on Australian pay television, have lived in Hong Kong since 1993 when they flew from Melbourne for a holiday.
The first horse Price sold to Hong Kong (On The Job, by Demus) won and Sight Winner (B g 2003, Faltaat (USA)-Kinjinette (NZ), by Kinjite (NZ)) was the 212th victory for Price purchases.
The gelding probably will get the chance to do what Silent Witness couldn’t do – despite his great record Silent Witness finished only second in the Champions Mile and Japan’s equivalent, the Yasuda Kinen – trainer John Size has said Sight Winner, with the first leg won, will go to Tokyo for the YK next month.
Price claims 80% of horses he has sold to HK have won. He considers temperament as well as ability, which helps explain the super success rate.
The two big success stories have a yearling sales link – agent John Foote, who bought Silent Witness for Price, paid $NZ60,000 for Sight Winner at the New Zealand Premier Sale in 2005. Interestingly, none of Price’s most successful purchases have been by fashionable stallions – as well as El Moxie, Faltaat and Demus, winners have been by Torrential, Spectatorial and Generous.
Sight Winner has won seven of 22 races and has earned $HK12.15 million (more than $2.4 million). Australian Brett Prebble, who rarely rides for compatriot Size, won on the $65 roughie on Sunday, having chosen the mount ahead of Dao Dao ($27) when Size told him Sight Winner had a winning chance despite being the least fancied of the trainer’s four runners.
Dao Dao ((Br g 5, Shinko Forest (Ire)-Casual Way (NZ), by Casual Lies (USA)) was third, barely a head from success. He was trained by Size when he raced in Hong Kong between Sydney stints with his present trainer John Hawkes, who is keen to bring him back for the Group 1 Cathay Pacific International Mile in December. South African Weichong Marwing had the ride on the Champions Mile.
Presvis, winner of the other Group 1 race on Sunday, the Audemars Piquet Queen Elizabeth 2 Cup (2000m), worth $HK14 million ($2.8 million), is expected to return to Hong Kong in December, too.
While owner Philip Booth expressed interest in the Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) late in October, trainer Luca Cumani will aim the exciting Presvis (B g 5, Sakhee (USA)-Forest Fire (SWE), by Never So Bold (IRE)) at the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup (2000m) some six weeks later – he is to run in the $3 million Group 1 Singapore Airlines Cup (2000m) at Kranji on May 17 before spelling.
One of the more interesting winners over the last week was the 2YO filly Fomalite at Bendigo on Sunday.
Fomalite is the first winner by the Victorian first-season sire Fomalhaut, an exquisitely bred son of Spinning World (by Nureyev (USA)). The filly is trained at Bendigo by Shane Fliedner.
Fomalite is the sixth foal, and the fifth winner, from the River Rough (by Brigand (USA)) mare White Water Bay, a metro-placed mare who won four from 25. White Water Bay is yet another good producing mare with a double cross of the great Star Kingdom through Brigand (by Noholme) and her dam Bayakoa (by Zephyr Bay’s Newmarket Handicap winner Elounda Bay), and it is of no surprise the mare nicks well with Fomalhaut, who is not only a Northern Dancer-line stallion, but also his granddam Raise The Standard (by Hoist The Flag (USA)) is a half-sister to Northern Dancer.
Fomalhaut is a three-parts brother to champion sire Machiavellian (by Mr. Prospector (USA)), and of course, he is closely related to the great Danehill (by Danzig (USA)). To add further to the in-breeding mix, Fomalhaut’s damsire is Halo (by Hail To Reason (USA)), whose dam Cosmah
Phil Nehmy is one of those gregarious characters who can find himself on the top of the dinner guest list of many of those people who have met him. His hearty laugh and left-of-field slant on life makes for a very entertaining evening.
Nehmy – a former racing analyst for the famous South Australian professional punting brothers John, Greg and Rick Manuel – is also a gambler, and like most gamblers he’s very opinionated; often the things he likes, others don’t.
For instance, Nehmy likes, no loves, the stallion Generous. Not many others do.
Generous (ch h 1988, Caerleon (USA)-Doff The Derby, by Master Derby (USA)), the racehorse, was a champion, as good as you can get. He won six of his 11 starts, including the 1990 Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes (1400m) 1991 Group 1 Epsom and Irish Derbys (2400m) and the 1991 Group 1 King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (2400m).
Generous retired to stud at four to Banstead Manor Stud, Newmarket, England, in 1992 with the highest reputation. He commanded the best mares but the results were moderate. In 1996 he was bought to stand in Japan. He shuttled for two years (from 1999) to Glamorgan Stud, near Auckland, New Zealand, before Glamorgan purchased the chestnut outright in 2002 and “reverse” shuttled him to Plantation Stud, Newmarket, in England.
Generous, following the sale of Glamorgan, stood his last season in New Zealand in 2003. He has left eight Stakes-winners – only three Group winners – from his five southern hemisphere seasons (although world-wide he has 39 Stakes winners). His best local progeny are Zilzie (two Group 3 wins), Tingirana (two Listed wins and Group 1 placed), Natural Woman (Group 3 Doomben Roses), the current handy Listed winner Fast Future and the Bart Cummings-trained pair Generosa and Kamsky.
Yet, despite his stallion’s relatively disappointing record, Nehmy continues to sing his praises. In fact, he won’t have a bad word said against him. “I am his greatest supporter.”he said.
Nehmy was first alerted to Generous by John Manuel, who rated the horse one of the greatest gallopers of all time, and the news that the horse was to stand in New Zealand sparked the interest of Manuel and his disciple, Nehmy. Both supported the stallion with mares.
“I remember seeing the promotional video of his wins. He was unbelievable,” Nehmy said.
Nehmy, like most gamblers, plays the “chance card” when possible. That’s what happened in 2002 when on a holiday in New Zealand with his wife, Heather. He was travelling through the Hamilton district to visit Rodmor Stud where he had an interest in a couple of resident mares. It was while he was at Rodmor, that he was told there was a sale on at Karaka, just south of Auckland. The annual Ready To Run sale for 2YOs was in full swing.
“My wife looked at me as if to say ‘oh no, not a sale’,” Nehmy said. “She knew that my record to that date was that I hadn’t attended a horse sale without buying a horse.”
The Nehmys drove straight to Karaka where one of the first people they bumped into was fellow South Australian, bloodstock analyist Brian Messner, who knew of Nehmy’s passion for the Generous stock. Messner said there was a little chestnut that Nehmy must see. The colt wasn’t by Generous but his Group 2 winning son, Germano (b h 1993, ex Gay Fantastic (GB), by Ela Mana Mou (IRE)), out of the Touching Wood mare Princess Touch. Germano was then standing at Fayette Park, near Matamata.
The colt was as small as his pedigree was thin. “Not one black type horse in the first four dams,” Nehmy said.
“But he had a lot of Generous about him. The same colour, the same flaxen mane and tail. And when I saw him breeze up (on a video at the sale complex), I saw he had Generous’s action. I just fell in love with him.
“Brian said I would get him for next to nothing, maybe $3000 or $4000, which was around Germano’s service fee at the time.”
Nehmy found that others liked the little chestnut too, and he needed to bid $NZ18,000 to secure his prize.
Nehmy named his new horse Ista Kareem. Kareem is Arabic for Generous. Ista, well Nehmy said he just made that up because it “sounded nice”.
Ista Kareem started life with trainer Jeremy Gask in Adelaide. The little horse soon showed immediate potential, and his career peaked in 2005 when he finished third behind Exalted Time and Tubular Bells in the Group 1 Adelaide Cup (3200m) at Morphettville.
Two years ago, Nehmy sent Ista Kareem to Melbourne to be trained at Caulfield by Colin Little. Like a lot of the Generous stock, Ista Kareem is a late maturing horse who has kept surprising Little, but not Nehmy.
It was Nehmy’s persistence that saw Ista Kareem set for the Group 1 Sydney Cup (3200m) at Randwick last weekend. Little had his doubts the 2008 Group 3 Launceston Cup (2400m) winner was good enough to win at Group 1 level. He left the entering of the horse in the Sydney Cup to Nehmy.
“Colin sent me an email that said that the Sydney Cup entries closed the next morning, if I wanted to enter him. I didn’t read his email until it was nearly too late. I got onto the phone and made the entry time by only three minutes,” Nehmy said.
Ista Kareem won the Sydney Cup with an outstanding burst of speed between horses over the last 200 metres. Both Nehmy’s faith and Little’s training skill – “I shortened up his work” shorthand for kept him fresh with short distance work – were rewarded.
On Saturday, Nehmy is hoping for a two-state “Generous” double when his mare Dollops (b or br m 2003, Generous (IRE)-Dresden Gold (NZ), by Famous Star (NZ)) – trained by David Jolly – runs in the Listed Proud Miss Stakes (1200m) at Morphettville.
On Friday, To A Fault (Ch g 2002, Generous (IRE)-Just Coz (NZ), by Don’t Forget Me (IRE)) – one of the first Generous horses bred by Nehmy – now trained by Patrick Payne, is likely to resume racing at Wodonga in a 1400m 0-78 class race. To A Fault has won five races in South Australia when trained David Jolly, and last year finished ninth behind Lacey Underall in the Group 2 Adelaide Cup (2400m) at Morphettville.
According to Nehmy, the records of Ista Kareem and To A Fault are similar at the same age. That makes the six-year-old To A Fault one to watch.
The column widens its horizons to look back and forward from Hong Kong’s big international meeting on Sunday …
WE SAW IT
Presvis (B g 5, Sakhee (USA)-Forest Fire (SWE), by Never So Bold (IRE)) broke Luca Cumani’s unlucky run of seconds in international events, including the Melbourne Cup in 2007 with Purple Moon and last year with Bauer, with a superb from-last win in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth 2 Cup (2000m) at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The win underlined the status of England-based Italian-born Cumani as a strong traveller of horses and confirmed Presvis’s growing reputation- in 11 months and 11 starts the gelding has gone from a debut third in a maiden at Haydock (England) to one of world racing’s elite.
On the way to Hong Kong he won two 2000-metre handicaps in Dubai with similar storming finishes and then made up many lengths to run second to the runaway Gladiatorus (B h 2005, Silic (FR)-Gmaasha (IRE), by Kris (GB)) in the Dubai Duty Free (1777m) at Nad Al Sheba on March 28.
On Sunday, he was the best backed (at $3.90) in the QE2, outside local idol Viva Pataca ($2.50 fav, second), and gave Britain’s reigning champion jockey Ryan Moore his second Group win for the weekend after he collected the Gr. 3 Gordon Richards (2007m) on Tartan Bearer (Ch h 4, Spectrum (IRE)-Highland Gift (Ire), by Generous (IRE)) at Sandown in England on Saturday.
(Incidentally, third in the Sandown race was Buccellati (Ch h 5, Soviet Star (USA)-Susi Wong (IRE), by Selkirk (IRE), who is likely to come out for the Melbourne Cup.)
For Presvis, next stop probably will be Singapore for the Group 1 Singapore Airlines International Cup (2000m) at Kranji on May 17, also the target of Melbourne’s Pompeii Ruler (Ch g 6, Genuine (JAP)-West With Night (NZ), by Pompeii Court (USA)), who won the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) at Randwick in Sydney on Saturday.
Later in the year, Presvis could head for Victoria with the Group 1 Cox Plate (WFA, 2040m) at Moonee Valley in October pencilled in for him.
Part-owner Philip Booth said Cumani had mentioned the Plate, and he added: “Anywhere in Australia would be awesome.”
Cumani, who also has the Hong Kong Cup (2000m) at Sha Tin in December on Presvis’s travel schedule, said: “I love international racing. It has great prize money and great atmosphere.” Expect a strong team from the Cumani stable for this year’s Spring Carnival. As he told The Thoroughbred this time last year: “I won’t rest until I’ve won the Melbourne Cup.”
Trainer David Hayes, popular in Australia, is even more so with punters in Hong Kong. In the parade ring with his runner Niconero before the QE2 he answered scores of ‘Hayesey’ calls from punters with a big smile and a wave or thumbs-up.
WE’LL WATCH IT
We’ll keep an eye on the Melbourne spring entries, for Presvis and also for Collection (B g 4, Peintre Celebre (USA)-Lasting Chance (USA), by American Chance (USA)), fifth in the Champions Mile, the other Group 1 at Sha Tin and the horse that trainer John Moore says can win the Cox Plate. Collection ($2.60 fav) wasn’t suited over 1600m yesterday, but he’s a gun around 2000m – he won the Hong Kong Derby over that distance last month.
Despite his fifth in the Champions Mile as $2.60 favourite, Collection appears to have ‘racing royalty’ stamped all over him. “They were a bit nippy for him over the mile,” jockey Darren Beadman said. “He had too much to do when they sprinted.”
Moore, son of former great Australian jockey George Moore and certain to win this year’s training premiership in Hong Kong, plans to bring another rising star – Happy Zero – to Australia as company for Collection, and reckons he can win the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes (1400m) or Toorak Handicap (1600m), Group 1 races at Caulfield he almost snared with Super Kid in 2005 (second, Toorak) and 2006 (fourth, Rupert Clarke).
Happy Zero (Br g 4, Danzero-Have Love, by Canny Lad), who won as 1-2 favorite at Sha Tin on April 5, has won five of his six starts in Hong Kong.
Before any visitors come to Australia, we’ll watch everyone’s favourite Takeover Target run in The Goodwood (1200m) at Morphettville in Adelaide next Saturday as a stepping stone to the Krisflyer (1200m) in Singapore (on the same program at the SAI Cup) and, all going well, to Royal Ascot in England for his fourth crack at the Group 1 Golden Jubilee (1200m) in June – Takeover Target (B g 9, Celtic Swing (GB)-Shady Stream, by Archregent (CAN)) has finished second, third and fourth in the Golden Jubilee.
THEY SAID IT
Australian trainer John Hawkes, after the well-backed Dao Dao (Br g 5, Shinko Forest (Ire)-Casual Way (NZ), by Casual Lies (USA)) was a lip and a lip from winning the Champions Mile after being backed from $45 into $27 in the half-hour before the race: “He’s run very well, and we knew he would.”
Weichong Marwing, Dao Dao’s rider: “They maybe didn’t go hard enough for him early on – that could have cost us a little. But he ran really well, and it was a good effort.”
Brett Prebble, the Hong Kong-based Australian who rode Champions Mile winner Sight Winner in preference to Dao Dao: “It’s a nice surprise but John (Size, the trainer) seemed quietly confident in the paddock beforehand, so that got my confidence up a little.”
John Size, another Australian based in Hong Kong: “Two factors to explain the win – the track condition was extremely important, and not letting the leader get it too easy as he often does was vital. We now have to have a look at the Yasuda Kinen (Japan’s final leg of the Asian Mile Challenge, in Tokyo next month) as we get an automatic invite (and a chance for a million-dollar bonus given to the winner of two legs).”
Jockey Craig Williams on Australia’s Niconero ($30), eighth in the Queen Elizabeth 2 Cup (2000m): “I eased him out of the race because I felt that he’d broken down in the near foreleg.”
Niconero’s trainer David Hayes: “It’s confirmed that he’s bowed a tendon in that leg and it’s probably career ending. I can’t believe it because he’s been such a good horse to us and incredibly I’d say he’s the soundest horse I’ve ever trained.”
John Moore, on Viva Pataca (B/br g 7, Marju (IRE)-Comic (IRE), by Be My Chief (USA)) going down to Presvis: “My horse was gallant in defeat. He had a perfect trip but the other horse was really something … you have to give way to the young ones sometimes.”
AND WE ADDED IT UP
The QE2 was worth $HK14 million (about $2.8 million) and the Mile $HK12 million (about $2.4 million).
Legal betting turnover in Hong Kong on the meeting was $HK906 million (about $181 million), down almost 4% on last year.
The quinella pool on the last race was more than $HK42 million (about $8.4 million) – quinella betting is much more popular than win or place and can have a pool more than twice the size of the win pool. And the quinella place (which we know as the duet, and as a flop in Australia) is not far behind the quinella.
Attendance was 41,000, down 15 per cent – crowd and turnover figures were rain-affected.
Prebble rode a treble to pass 50 winners for the season – he is on 51 and will finish second at season’s end (July 1) to South African Douglas Whyte (currently 84), the perennial champion. Beadman (35) should be third.
Moore had one winner and with 58 is well clear on the trainers’ list from Size (45) and Caspar Fownes (44).
Black Caviar, a three-quarter sister to The Thoroughbred Magazine Club’s Bel Esprit filly, was a brilliant first start winner last Saturday at Flemington.
Black Caviar is by Bel Esprit from Helsinge, a daughter of Desert Sun and Scandinavia. Our filly is by Bel Esprit from Song Of The Sun, a daughter of Desert Sun who is a half-sister to Scandinavia.
Trainer Peter Moody said Black Caviar is ranked alongside his Golden Slipper runner-up Headway. “She was in our top three 2YOs, but she injured herself in December when she was being prepared for the autumn races,” Moody said.
Black Caviar is a powerfully built filly who looks more like a 4YO mare than a 2Y0, according to Moody. The filly will be set for the early spring 3YO sprint races before being spelled with all the major sprints in the 2010 autumn as her aim.
In an article in the latest edition of The Thoroughbred, due out on May 1, Australian trainer Michael Freedman describes Singapore as ‘Asia for beginners’. He is talking about life in and outside racing, with the move from home made easier by twin bridges – the English language and the comfortable setting of a sport/industry that has Australians and New Zealanders sprinkled throughout; and, in some cases, on top.
Hong Kong, similarly, is a gate to a world much different yet easily entered, especially through its bigger and grander, but still exclusive, racing industry with the Hong Kong Jockey Club the only legal betting operator.
It is exclusive in that sense; and in having all its horses trained from stables on course at Sha Tin, near the city centre and racing there at weekends and at Happy Valley, a float ride away, on Hong Kong Island on Wednesday nights; and in restricting ownership of horses to club members.
But it is inclusive in welcoming visitors (punters and tourists as spectators) season-long (September-June/July) and visiting competitors of Group 1 standing, with their human entourages, including the media, for the international carnivals that are the highlight meetings – December’s four Group 1s and April’s pair, the Queen Elizabeth II Cup and Champions Mile – as well as being the main marketing tools in the HKJC’s push to legitimise itself as a world racing power.
The British heritage remains strong, so it is fitting that the club’s guests – yes, media included – are treated royally.
Competitors’ travel and accommodation costs are paid and those of the media are subsidised. Japanese and Australians are usually at the front of the queue, the Europeans not far behind and the South Africans are joining in with relish, usually through Dubai links. Americans and Singaporeans, too, are aware of benefits for hosts and guests.
Hong Kong’s racing is regimented and efficient, and it – and punting on it – is tolerated by the mainland Chinese Government because of the tax and charity dollars that flow from it.
The punter is provided with full support, from televised trackwork with horses wearing numbered saddlecloths, to compulsory weighing that shows weight variations as a potential guide to fitness levels. Multiples, rather than simple win bets, are the go. Pools are huge.
The reporters and photographers who are lured usually return, aware that the HKJC provides transport to and from the tracks (training and racing) ensuring that first-class work and play facilities make their job much easier.
This is my second April meeting and I have been to the past three December carnivals – the big days excite; and the lack of quality on track at Happy Valley in the lead-in meeting is more than compensated by tight racing on a track only a metre or two over 1400 metres around. The atmosphere under lights and the facilities on a course that appears to have been squeezed between high-rise housing and work places is pulsating. Usually, at the Valley, the rails and a leading or on-pace position are the ingredients of racing success.
Sha Tin, of course, is at the other end of the scale. It has a roomy 1900m track with a 430-metre straight that gives run-on horses every chance, and it has a magnificent under-cover mounting yard.
Both attract enthusiastic crowds in a punt-happy culture.
Travel, they say, broadens the mind, and that is true of minds more noteworthy than the minds of humble racing writers. David Hayes, Victoria’s premier trainer, has seen the racing as a ‘local’, having won two premierships in 10 seasons before returning to Australia almost four years ago.
He welcomes the chance to return with a runner on the Group 1 stage. Niconero (B g 7, Danzero-Nicola Lass, by Scenic (IRE)) is his travel card this trip, and the always-optimistic Hayes rates the veteran as a top-three chance in the QEII Cup (2000m), a race expected to send local Viva Pataca and South African Archipenko to the wire ahead of a group (England’s Presvis, France’s Chinchon, the local Thumbs Up, and Niconero) fighting for the leftovers of the $HK14 million (about $2.8 million) purse.
Experience has taught Hayes that he and his horse will benefit from the trip, whatever the result. He talks of other stable travellers Better Loosen Up (a multiple Group 1 winner in the early1990s) and Fields Of Omagh (a dual Cox Plate winner), who were tougher and better horses after travelling. Thrived is the word Hayes used.
Niconero, too, has moved up the scale, graduating from not being out of place in Group 1 company – just – to being well and truly a member of the G1 team, with wins in the G1 Futurity Stakes at Caulfield and the G1 Australian Cup at Flemington before this double-barrel campaign – fourth place in the G1 Dubai Duty Free (1777m) in March and straight on to Hong Kong.
In both venues he has had company (racemare Tuesday Joy at Nad Al Sheba and a couple of retired racers at Sha Tin) in his quarantine barn to ensure he stays happy.
The gregarious Hayes enjoys company, too – Niconero’s co-owners Peter Devitt and Les Gordon, and old friends among the training and HKJC ranks. On the bus from his five-star hotel to trackwork on Thursday morning, Hayes was the kid in the lolly shop, almost skipping out to the trainers’ tower inside the main turf track almost two hours before Niconero was to work. (Quarantine rules mean visiting horses are stabled at the opposite end of the course to the locals and can’t be worked until the last of the 1000-plus locals stabled there is locked away.)
All week, Niconero has been aggressively happy working on the all-weather track with stable foreman Lizzie Jeffs in the saddle. “You’d never describe Niconero as a relaxed horse,” Hayes said. “He gets a bit uptight.”
Uptight is the word often used by Australian racing writers to describe John Hawkes, who has brought Dao Dao (Br g 5, Shinko Forest (IRE)-Casual Way (NZ), by Casual Lies (USA)) from Sydney to Hong Kong for the $HK12 million (about $2.4 million) Champions Mile (1600m) – the media have had a stormy relationship with the top trainer over the years.
Unlike Hayes, Hawkes is uncomfortable with the media, but on this jaunt he has been relaxed and smiling. “How ya going, champ?” he said to a Melbourne-based photographer, and he talked to reporters about how floating horses between his Sydney and Melbourne stables had helped mature them.
Dao Dao, who, with trainer John Size, raced in Hong Kong for a year after starting in Sydney with Hawkes and before returning to him, is a stronger horse now. Hawkes said Dao Dao had more maturing to do, but, clearly, he is happy with how his charge is travelling. And he said horse and connections “didn’t come all this way for a bit of fun”.
But Hawkes is having fun, and he suggested that “hopefully in the next few years we’ll have horses good enough to travel”.
Clearly, all can benefit from experiences such as these, be they extroverts or introverts: Hayes returns refreshed and with contacts and ideas enlarged; Hawkes might find new doors opening; and the media can widen their own and, importantly, their readers’/viewers’ horizons.
The world is ever shrinking under the weight of the technology revolution, but that fact of 21st century life has not ensured worldwide interest in the big international double at Sha Tin in Hong Kong on Sunday – the $HK12 million Champions Mile and the $HK14 million Queen Elizabeth 2 Cup (2000m) – and has left 11 and 10 from a total of 478 entries, with Australia having two of the seven visiting horses.
The “always thereabouts” Niconero (B g 7, Danzero (Aus)-Nicola Lass (Aus), Scenic (Ire)), who has taken his Group 1 form and stamina to another level, will take on the world in the Cup after elite wins in the Gr. 1 Futurity Stakes (1600m) at Caulfield and in the Gr. 1 Australian Cup (2000m) at Flemington, and a credible fourth in the Gr.1 Dubai Duty Free (1770m) at Nad Al Sheba.
After the Futurity win, trainer David Hayes said he had confiscated Niconero’s passport – the gelding had failed twice overseas, including the 2006 Champions Mile in Hong Kong – but the Australian Cup win brought a change of heart and the gelding responded well last month in Dubai. The former Hong Kong-based Craig Williams will ride the gelding.
The other visitors, especially Archipenko (B h 5, Kingmambo (USA)-Bound (USA), by Nijinsky (CAN)), who won the QE2 Cup last year for South African trainer Mike De Kock and his stable rider Kevin Shea, and Luca Cumani’s Presvis (B g 5, Sakhee (USA)-Forest Fire (SWE), by Never So Bold (IRE)), are expected to provide the most opposition to local favourite Viva Pataca (B/br g 7, Marju (IRE)-Comic (IRE), by Be My Chief (USA)), trained and ridden by the Hong Kong-based Australian combination, John Moore and Darren Beadman.
Moore and Beadman get together with Collection (B g 4, Peintre Celebre (USA)-Lasting Chance (USA), by American Chance (USA), considered the obvious local challenger to HK’s champion miler Good Ba Ba (B g 7, Lear Fan (USA)-Elle Mem (USA), by Zilzal (USA)) in the Mile. Dao Dao (Br g 5, Shinko Forest (Ire), a recent winner at Randwick is Australia’s rep for the Hawkes trio of trainers, John and his sons Michael and Wayne – Michael is the stable rep this trip.
Dao Dao, ridden by Beadman, won at the Listed Royal Parma Stakes (1400m) at Rosehill on April 4 at his second start since a stint in Hong Kong – then, trained by John Size at Sha Tin, the gelding was a disappointing eighth of 10 behind Good Ba Ba in last year’s running of the Champions Mile. Australian Zac Purton rode him then; HK-based South African Weichong Marwing is on this time.
This was the race that was supposed to confirm the world reputation of reigning Australian horse of the year Weekend Hussler (B g 4, Hussonet (USA)-Weekend Beauty, by Helissio (FR)), but, with back problems, he was sent for a spell instead of setting out on the Asian Mile Challenge caravan, of which Hong Kong is the third leg.
The US has no runners at Sha Tin, nor has Japan, despite it hosting the final leg of the mile series, the Yasuda Kinen, in Tokyo in June. The Dubai leg was won by Gladiatorus (B h 4, Silic (Fr)-Gmaasha (Ire), by Kris (GB)), also not in Hong Kong. Alexandros (Kingmambo (USA)-Arlette (IRE), King Of Kings (IRE), third in Dubai, will run for Godolphin with its No.1 jockey Frankie Dettori aboard.
In both races, Australia’s horses are considered a place chance at best, although Beadman and Moore – and perhaps the other HK-based riders Purton and Brett Prebble, and trainer John Size, can fly the winning flag.
Just as importantly, the meeting offers further exposure to horses Australia might see in the spring – Moore has declared his Cox Plate interest with the exciting Collection, and Cumani, runner-up in the past two Melbourne Cups with Purple Moon and Bauer, will be in the spotlight with Dubai Duty Free runner-up Presvis. Even if this promising stayer doesn’t head to Melbourne, Cumani has declared his desire to try again at Flemington.
Beadman said Viva Pataca and Collection had strong form and were in good shape. “While Collection could have run in the QE2, it’s good that we can separate them,” he said. “The 2000m is Viva Pataca’s pet distance and, while he is a seven-year-old, he’s never really been taxed. John has really looked after him.”
Hong Kong Derby winner Collection is the new kid on the block. “He does look the real deal,” Beadman said. “He won the Derby (for four-year-olds) quite convincingly and had to defy his racing pattern to do it. He’s got a great turn of foot and can reel off some pretty good sectionals.
“Still, the Derby was against his own age and there has to be some question mark running against the older horses, but you know he’s a good horse in the making.”
Beadman also is well placed to offer an opinion on Dao Dao in the Champions Mile, having ridden him at Rosehill. “I think he might be better in six months’ time, but he’s a beautiful horse and gave me a great feel when he won in Sydney. He can be competitive,” he said.
That said, Good Ba Ba, is an extraordinary miler on his home turf. Like Niconero, Dao Dao looks a place chance at best.
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