Rain softens up the opposition for Macau in interport return
'It's certainly going of a kind that horses never see in Hong Kong,' says Hayes
The idiosyncracies of Macau's Taipa racecourse look certain to play a home-town role as Hong Kong attempts to gain its revenge in this afternoon's $2.3 million Hong Kong-Macau Trophy (1,500 metres).
Joe Lau-trained Crown's Gift set the Hong Kong Jockey Club on its heels by winning the inaugural interport race on February 15 at Sha Tin and the return bout has been made no easier for the 'big brother' club by a sharp track downgrade.
The Taipa track softened up after rain on Thursday and Macau Jockey Club racing director and chief steward Ian Paterson said he anticipated the course to be 'slow at best', adding a surface consideration for the Hong Kong visitors they would rarely see.
'There is a good grass cover but that rain just sent it to heavy on Thursday afternoon,' he said. 'We had no rain on Friday but they weren't great drying conditions. It wouldn't take much rain to keep the reading at heavy, but even with no more rain it will only be slow.'
Two of the three Hong Kong trainers, Caspar Fownes and David Hayes, were at trackwork on Friday morning at Taipa to watch their collective of five runners and were happy with the state of their runners.
'It's certainly going of a kind that horses never see in Hong Kong,' said Hayes, who will saddle up Celestial Magic, Planet Ruler and Clement Supreme. 'I suppose we can't know if they'll handle it until they run but Celestial Magic handles everything he has thrown at him, so I don't think ground will be the concern. And Clement Supreme was a heavy track winner in Melbourne.'
Fownes said he was not too concerned as The Duke had won by seven lengths on the wet as a griffin and Perfect Partner was unbeaten in five attempts on wet going when he raced in Australia as Masked.
'Perfect Partner was very good in the wet there so it may even suit him. I'm happy with how both horses arrived. They are both full of beans and just need a bit of luck,' Fownes said.
Ivan Allan-trained Golconda, who loves wet going and races on the speed, should be suited by Taipa but Hayes feels he has the bases covered regardless of pattern.
'Celestial Magic goes forward, Planet Ruler will sit just behind the speed and Clement Supreme will sit back and run home strongly if the track is not against the swoopers,' said Hayes, who made some minor shoeing adjustment to Celestial Magic on Friday.
'He's not the best mover at any time but I thought that he was not striding out as well as he could in his work there,' Hayes explained. 'He just looked like his shoes were tight so we've put some bigger ones on him. I don't know whether he's the pick of mine or not - I would have preferred to draw in a bit closer than the outside gate. I must say Clement Supreme seemed to move well in his work and he is the one just hitting form.'
The Macau-Hong Kong Trophy will briefly be the richest race run in Macau - eclipsing the Macau Derby prizemoney of 2003 but $80,000 short of the stakes for the 2004 Derby on April 18 - and home-ground experience is going to count for something, according to Paterson.
'It did look a stronger Hong Kong team on paper than the one which ran at Sha Tin in February,' he agreed. 'But our horses are very experienced in this sort of going and that will put them back into the race. Analyst won our Derby last year by a huge margin in heavy ground, but I still think the best of the Macau horses will be Crown's Gift. He's had two barrier trials since he won at Sha Tin and really looks to have thrived.'