White Bronco out of Bowl as all eyes turn to Special
American challenger White Bronco was yesterday withdrawn from tomorrow's $6.5 million International Bowl, while strong support and a good barrier draw saw the odds on Hong Kong hope Special plummet.
Disappointed trainer Tim Pinfield, a former jumps jockey in England having his first crack at an international race, heeded veterinary advice to withdraw his three-year-old following travel-induced problems.
It was the latest and, hopefully, last in a series of withdrawals and late changes which have afflicted this year's renewal of the International Races.
The departure of White Bronco paved the way for a run for locally trained speedster Laser Star, originally topweight for the Class One seventh event on the International Races day card, which will now have a field of 13.
Trained by Lam Hung-fie and to be ridden by visiting Australian jockey Danny Nicolic, Laser Star will jump from barrier 10.
The late switch could pose problems for Australian challenger Spartacus - suspect at the 1,400-metre trip - who looks certain to be challenged for the lead by the local sprinter.
The barrier draw, conducted after local trackwork yesterday morning, saw Hong Kong horses have mixed fortunes.
But there was a huge cheer from the David Hayes camp when Special drew barrier four.
An inside draw is a definite advantage at the Bowl start and Hayes said: 'Luck was with us and I am delighted. This is a tough race and the hardest test Special has had to face, so it's important to have a bit of luck here and there.
'He's absolutely ready for the race and I am confident he will run extremely well.' That confidence was reflected in new odds issued by Richard Thomas, of the UK bookmaking firm Victor Chandler, who said: 'There has been quite a lot of support for Special and I have also been influenced by his barrier draw.' Special was priced at 8-1 when the first list was issued on Tuesday and is now a 9-2 chance with the firm.
Out of luck was trainer Patrick Biancone, whose top Cup hope Johan Cruyff drew the extreme outside barrier of 14.
'I did not want that. A draw in the middle would have been quite all right but I am sure Eric [Legrix] will not get boxed in,' said the French maestro.
Likely favourite Smashing Pumpkin drew barrier 11 for the $7 million Cup and Hayes was not concerned.
'Basil [Marcus] can find a position and we know he wants to be held up and come from well back. He is in super shape and I think he will win it,' said the Australian, who won the Melbourne Cup with Jeune.
'Take it from me, I would love to have the International Cup on my list of big race wins. Winning Hong Kong's biggest race with a local horse would be something very special.' Iron horse Privilege, third in the 2,400-metre Vase last year to Luso, fared well. He will jump from barrier six and that will give him a chance to adopt his more normal front-running tactics.
Champion trainer Ivan Allan said: 'He's well and he is ready. If he can get to the front then he will make them work to win. That I know.' Luso and Mick Kinane will jump from barrier 12 but trainer Clive Brittain was not unduly concerned.
'The horse is in great shape and he is enjoying himself. It is not totally ideal being out wide but I am sure he will slot in somewhere and I think he has a great chance. We are all very happy with him,' said Brittain.
Victor Chandler could take a small beating with Luso as the early price of 7-4, which scarcely looked like a Christmas bonus, was snapped up in London.
'There were a lot of takers. They know the horse too well in the UK and when they saw a couple of German horses, a Japan runner and some Hong Kong horses around him in the market, they took the price on offer. He's now at 6-4,' said Thomas.
Local Vase hope Indigenous, stablemate of Privilege, drew barrier four for South African ace Douglas Whyte, who said: 'That certainly won't hurt his chances. I am looking forward to riding him because he is really over a trip where I think he will be effective.' The overseas challengers took centre stage in final workouts on the grass yesterday, with a number going well.
Luso continued to look particularly good while Decorated Hero, although not asked to do much, looked in good shape despite his travel problems.
Catalan Opening, who drew the extreme outside in the Bowl, and English invader Wizard King both worked in grand style for the sprint event.
'He went faster than I thought and he did it within himself,' said jockey Wendyll Woods, who was happy with Wizard King's barrier draw of six.