De Kock hopes to stamp his mark with Right Approach
There would be a certain quirky quality to tomorrow's Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup being won by a horse formerly owned by Queen Elizabeth, and representing South Africa but never having set foot in the place.
But quirky is trainer Mike de Kock's most frequent description of Right Approach, the horse who can help him start making the same sort of impact on Hong Kong's international race scene as he has already made in Dubai.
South African De Kock pushed aside some more well-known names at the 2003 Dubai World Cup meeting, winning two major races on the night, including the Dubai Duty Free with champion mare Ipi Tombe.
To prove it was no fluke, he came back this year and placed his name up among the pre-eminent international trainers by doing it again, with his double including a dead-heat for a second Dubai Duty Free win when the judge couldn't split Right Approach and Paolini. In addition, De Kock plundered lesser nights at the nine-week Dubai racing carnival meetings with a specially tailored team he had brought from South Africa.
'I guess I do well in the desert,' he laughed, but alluded to the added problems trainers from his country have trying to win majors overseas with the African horse sickness and the quarantine difficulties that ensue.
'No, really, they have a magnificent set-up and were very accommodating to us knowing the problems we face. I have applied for permanent boxes in Dubai to start up a satellite stable there because it is so hard once you've left South Africa with a horse, you'd rather they didn't go back again.
'When you bring a horse from South Africa to Dubai, you're looking at 105 days of quarantine before you get there - three weeks in South Africa, another 40 days in Mauritius, then 45 days in Europe. By contrast, the horses from the United Kingdom do six days of quarantine and go straight there.'
De Kock believes the African horse sickness is misunderstood by other racing nations and said it was not contagious from horse to horse.
'It's very seasonal and dies off in the winter, and it is only spread by a midge which bites the horses and flies away - that horse can't give it to another horse and horses can't get it in an environment where the midge doesn't exist,' he explained.
'It's always going to be there in South Africa.
'But I understand the world's point of view, too - why should other countries take any risk at all with their own horses? So we have to go through what I believe are unreasonable protocols. I think we could do 21 days quarantine and it would be sufficient - if your horse has been in quarantine 21 days and hasn't died, then it hasn't got the sickness.'
Right Approach will be De Kock's first Hong Kong runner, but it isn't hard to see the light bulb going on when the December International events are discussed.
Victory tomorrow with a bargain basement purchase once touted as an Epsom Derby hopeful in the colours of Queen Elizabeth might whet his appetite further.
'Right Approach is quirky. He's got tons of ability, a great action, and if he's in the right frame of mind he's a real chance,' De Kock said. 'He was a bit fresh on Tuesday when he did a bit more in his work than I wanted but all that means is we've had to change our thinking with him for the rest of the week.'
And after the QE II? Right Approach will go back to Dubai for a break, to wait out the summer and wonder about the nation he represents but might never see.