Asia prizes beat Ascot prestige
Little Bridge's resounding Royal Ascot victory is unlikely to spark an avalanche of Hong Kong horses aimed at the event, with trainers saying the superior prize money and convenience of Asia's biggest sprints outweighs the prestige on offer in England.
Although thrilled that Danny Shum Chap-shing was able to lift Hong Kong's profile by winning Tuesday's GBP350,000 (HK$4.27 million) King's Stand Stakes, rival trainers insist dollars still make more sense to owners and that an end-of-season trip to the northern hemisphere will remain an extravagance.
'You have to travel twice as far, for half the money,' said Manfred Man Ka-leung, who targeted the US$1 million Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai earlier this year with Eagle Regiment, only to see his horse withdrawn on raceday.
'The first thing you think about is stake money - and in Japan and Dubai, compared to England, it's double at least - so my first choice is staying in Asia.'
For most international raiders at Ascot the lure is not prize money, but the massive increase in stud value European success provides. The vast majority of Hong Kong's horses are geldings, including Little Bridge, so the major attraction for owners is the chance to rub shoulders with royalty and make history.
Caspar Fownes didn't downplay the significance of Little Bridge's win, but reiterated that the motivation to race at Ascot wasn't monetary.
'You don't go there for stake money because it is like racing at home in a Group Two,' he said.
Fownes actually considered a July Cup start at Newmarket this year for Lucky Nine, who won nearly HK$8 million in December's Hong Kong Sprint, before opting to head to Tokyo instead and the HK$9.8 million Yasuda Kinen.
'Most of our clients like to chase the big money, so if we can stay close to Hong Kong for big money that's what we tend to go for,' he said.
Little Bridge became the first Hong Kong-trained runner to win at the carnival since Cape Of Good Hope in the same race in 2004, although it was held at York that year because of renovations. Shum's five-year-old collected ?98,000 for his win, the biggest pay day of his career, but by Group One standards and, given the transportation costs involved, that money still doesn't stack up compared to events closer to home.
The purse for both of Ascot's feature sprints has grown significantly since Cape Of Good Hope was successful, when the King's Stand was worth a touch over HK$1 million - not enough to lure Tony Cruz and his champion sprinter Silent Witness. 'At that time the King's Stand was worth less than a Class One here, so that's the main reason we didn't go. We went to Japan instead,' said Cruz, who added Japan, Singapore and Dubai were far more accommodating for visitors.
'A big part of why Japan was our main goal was that it is a great package - it is free for owners and support staff. In England you've got to pay for everything - airfare, accommodation, you're on your own. There's no package deal so that's why we didn't go,' he said.
Offering an alternative view was Andreas Schutz, who said a lack of top-class local sprint events opened up opportunities for those willing to travel.
'Why not? There's few options towards the end of the season here and the King's Stand is known to not be top of the league, whereas Japan can be a bit tricky,' he said. 'There are plenty of sprinters here doing nothing and Danny has gone there and got some money... it really is a great achievement.'