Pacesetter Brittain feels right at home
'I don't think we've ever taken horses away and not picked up something,' says England's veteran world traveller
International racing might seem to be a new pursuit to many racing fans, but English trainer Clive Brittain was there when the dawn broke on it almost two decades ago.
'It's a piece of cake these days,' Brittain sparkled yesterday as he saw his Hong Kong Vase runner, Warrsan, go through his paces.
The trainer turns 70 on Monday but still rides out on four horses a morning at home, and was one of the early voyagers in the early to mid-1980s, winning a Japan Cup with Jupiter Island, a Breeders' Cup with Pebbles and finishing second in the Kentucky Derby.
Brittain was also in the vanguard as Europeans trekked to Australia for the first time on hit-and-run missions in Sydney in the same decade, finishing second in the Tancred International at Rosehill and he was one of the first to make tracks to Sha Tin's showpiece.
'If you ask me the reason we did it then when it was so much more difficult - the answer is money,' Brittain laughs, and the reasons haven't changed a lot even if the manner of the task has.
'The travel was not as easy then, but much of the change had to do with the quarantine. In Australia, Les Benton was the one who made the Melbourne Cup take off for Europeans in the 1990s. I had met Les and told him there was no way he would get horses there unless they could work on the quarantine problems and, to his credit, he pushed for changes that have made the race such a success now.
'Likewise, when we went to Kentucky, I told them they didn't have a cat's chance in hell of getting European horses for the Breeders' Cup unless they made it easier.'
At that time, Brittain recalls, it was not possible to fly into Kentucky so the Europeans had to fly to New York, go the lengthy journey by road to Kentucky and then do their quarantine there.
'Later they managed to change it so you could fly directly into Kentucky and having the European horses has given a real lift to the Breeders' Cup,' he said. With a string of 80 at home now, down from the 140 he once trained, Brittain continues nevertheless to strive for perfection and sees it as a byproduct of global racing.
'I've been at this business 56 years and probably forgotten a lot I should remember, but I don't think we've ever taken horses away and not picked up something.'
Brittain was an early winner in Hong Kong and a Vase win by Warrsan would be nothing new to the trainer but part of a unique family story for the horse.
His dam, Lucayan Princess, has already provided two Vase runners for Brittain - Needle Gun, who was runner-up to Partipral in the second running of the race eight years ago, and Luso, who came to win it in 1996 and defend it in 1997. 'Talk about breeding for a race,' Brittain laughs, but at three it will end, because Lucayan Princess is retired from broodmare duties.
Warrsan may have lost a few pounds more than desirable on his trip over, but his trainer is unflustered: 'He's put back six kilos already, he's bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, which is the main thing. He travelled fine - if they get through the first half hour, it doesn't matter if the trip is three hours or 30 hours. If they don't, there is the same risk of fretting and losing condition in a float trip from my place to Newmarket as there is coming here.'
And refreshingly, Brittain has done too much successful travelling to be making excuses early.
'If you have the right horse, you should be planning to come here in July, not because it's the end of the season,' he observes. 'Warrsan's come very fit but he's had two months since he raced, so he's fresh and there are no excuses. If people aren't happy with their horses going into the race, they have only themselves to blame.
'It isn't like the early days of racing internationally - everything is done for you here, the vets are good, the security's good. Most people dream about coming to places like Hong Kong - I feel privileged to come here and see it in this way.'