Sino Land chief lays foundation for success with two-pronged attack on $14 million Hong Kong Vase
A strong sense of deja vu surrounds Robert Ng Chee-siong this week. A year ago, the chairman of Sino Land made the kind of deal that is the province of top businessmen when he splashed out a reputed US$1 million to buy top English galloper Daliapour and within a week had reaped a handsome reward as the son of Sadler's Wells scooped the Hong Kong Vase at the International meeting. It all seemed so simple - a dream come true for an owner with his first runner in Hong Kong.
This week, Ng goes for a repeat victory in the $14 million race when the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Daliapour returns to Hong Kong to defend his title. And, just in case that is not enough, the property tycoon has made another last-minute dip into the transfer market to add French runner Foundation Spirit to his squad for the 2,400-metre contest. Same scenario, same dream - only doubled.
Ng, though, is trying to keep his feet on the ground. 'It is every owner's dream to win one of the International races and I was lucky enough to be able to buy Daliapour last year,' he says. 'It would be fantastic to win again but it looks an even tougher race this year. It's a hell of a race and maybe it will be the most difficult one to win on International Day because there are so many good horses and they look very closely matched.'
Ng's caution is understandable, for Daliapour's route back to the Vase has been anything but straightforward. The five-year-old left Stoute immediately after last year's victory to join Ivan Allan's stable as the highest-rated horse ever imported to Hong Kong. More big-race success seemed assured but Daliapour, who was still an entire, failed to settle in the closeted environment at Sha Tin, was troubled by lameness and could not rediscover his winning form.
The dream was turning into a nightmare and in the end it was decided that the best course of action was to return Daliapour to Stoute's Newmarket stable.
'He was slightly sore and a bit lame when he was here,' Ng recalls, 'and it was difficult to give him the kind of preparation he was used to. In Newmarket, he has more space and life is easier for him. When he left Hong Kong in May, Michael gave him plenty of time. He rested him, gave him a lot of swimming and did not rush to get him back.
'I went to the track the other day for the first time to see Daliapour and he looked really well. Michael and his staff have done a great job.'
Daliapour has been one of the most eye-catching workers so far among the overseas runners and he has clearly thrived since his promising return to action in September when he was fourth past the post in the Canadian International at Woodbine. He was later demoted to seventh over an incident early in the 2,400-metre race, which is one of the legs of the Emirates World Series, but Ng was pleased with the run.
'He was running on very well at the finish and it was a good first race back,' he says. 'You have to remember he was third in the race the year before, so fourth place was a fantastic effort in the circumstances. Zindabad, who runs against us again in the Vase, was only just ahead in Canada and you would have to think Daliapour will improve because that was his first run for almost six months. Michael was very pleased with the way the horse handled himself.'
Foundation Spirit may not be in Daliapour's class, at least not yet, but Ng has high hopes for the Francois Doumen-trained son of Hernando. 'I bought him about three weeks ago and he already had a Vase entry, but I never expected he would run because there were so many good horses who had been invited and he wasn't in at all.
'Fortunately for us, there were a few dropouts and I'm thrilled he has managed to get a run. He is only a three-year-old but he is suited by a mile and a half and Francois has a high opinion of him.'
Foundation Spirit was third in a Group Two race over 2,400 metres on his latest start in France, but perhaps his best run came in June when he was sixth in the French Derby behind Anabaa Blue. Just in front in fifth was Milan, who went on to win the English St Leger and finish second in the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Ng adds: 'It was a very good run because Foundation Spirit got checked once or twice in the straight. He would have done a bit better if he had got a clear run and would probably have finished ahead of Milan, but there is no way he would have beaten Anabaa Blue.'
Ng's interest in horses came from his father, who has a stable of around 70 horses in Singapore and also has about a dozen in training with Bart Cummings in Australia. Ng brought Lucky Win to Hong Kong from Singapore this season but so far the move has been even less successful than Daliapour's stay, with the sprinter having finished last on both starts for Peter Ho.
Foundation Spirit, meanwhile, will be the second Doumen-trained horse to carry the purple and red colours of Ng, who transferred King Of Tara to the Frenchman's stable on the outskirts of Paris after purchasing the three-year-old from Aidan O'Brien's Irish operation early this summer.
The son of Fairy King, who has already won a Group Two for Ng in France, had been a possible for the Hong Kong Cup at one stage but ended up running in the Japan Cup Dirt last month when he failed to handle the surface and was beaten more than 40 lengths.
With all this activity going on elsewhere, Ng could be forgiven for a certain amount of frustration at being unable to attend most of his horses' races, but he is philosophical about the situation - for the time being.
'I have to get my pleasure vicariously from videotapes and reports by phone from the trainers,' he laughs. 'I couldn't bring another horse to Hong Kong this year, but next season my wife and I will have a permit each, so we will look to have a couple more horses here.'
At least this week Ng will be able to see his horses in the flesh when they go for glory. And this time he will be seeing double.