Urban Sea's Arc win just the tonic for HK
By ROBIN PARKE
URBAN Sea's unlikely triumph in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe has handed the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club a magnificent ace in in their bid to upgrade the annual International Cup to Group Two status.
One can only assume that the urbane chief executive of the Jockey Club, Major-General Guy Watkins, and director of racing Philip Johnston were almost as deeply gratified by the mare's success as Hong Kong owner David Tsui.
The chief executive is the supplicant at the door of the International Racing Conference, seeking Group Two status for the Cup and Group Three for the 1,400-metre Bowl.
The timing of Urban Sea's slog through the Paris mud could not have been better. Here was a mare who could only finish down the field in Hong Kong's showpiece race last April but beat the best in Europe in one of the world's most prized races.
The Club's organisational ability is without par in international racing and the December showpiece events have become an integral part of world race planning.
In a nutshell, the Club put on a real show, and it is one not bettered at other big events on the world calendar. Frankly, inadequate Epsom on Derby Day has less to offer - except, from time to time, a horse destined for immortality.
And that is what it is all about. We need the equine best to compete in Hong Kong in December and make a tremendous occasion complete. And that can only be done by upgrading these fine races.
There is absolutely no reason why the International Cup cannot eclipse the Japan Cup as the leading race in Asia. Time and determination are the key elements.
Of course, to make the upgrading of the race meaningful, Hong Kong must also be able to issue a suitable home challenge.
Thankfully, the constant improvement of the quality of the horses racing in the territory will ensure that.
Those who watched Winning Partners' ruthless demolition of Class One opposition at Sha Tin on Sunday will readily appreciate that here is a horse capable of troubling the best in the Bowl.
The Keeneland raids of champion trainers John Moore and David Hill, backed up by Patrick Biancone, will also bear fruit - in time.
There is a sure and certain future champion going to come via America, ready to carry the Hong Kong colours in the International Cup. Luckless Deerfield pointed the way.
Meanwhile, in Paris, the International Racing Committee can ponder on Hong Kong's qualifications to host a Group Two race, aided by the superb success of locally-owned Urban Sea in the Arc.
It was a good weekend for Hong Kong racing. IT was particularly heartening to see the excellent Jeff Lloyd ride the first winner of his three-month stint.
No one who knows of the South African's prowess doubted that he would make a mark in Hong Kong - given the chance.
Therein lies the rub. Lloyd and fellow-Club jockey Dave Penna have been finding life tough. It has been particularly frustrating for Lloyd, having ridden doubles and trebles back home with regularity.
The Club must re-think the policy of having two three-month jockeys in Hong Kong at the start of any given season. Good rides are just not available for them.
Climatic conditions, programming, and a long season ahead, all combine to ensure that most stables come on line slowly.
You then have the unhappy position where jockeys, such as Lloyd and Penna, working on horses, which, if capable of winning races, will be doing so for someone else when they have departed these shores.
It is an unhealthy situation. International jockeys should not be riding no-hopers or less-than-fit horses. But that is the case in the early weeks of any season.
The solution is simple. No three-month licences for the first third of the season. NO quibbles with the Stipendiary Stewards when they take a long time to sort out an objection. Better to have it done right than done in haste.
But it is difficult to understand why Sunday's final race objection took so long to sort out. Having finally seen the head-on film, the view from this corner is simple. There are two interpretations.
First, Tony Cruz made his move on Prince Igor to take a gap that was not there - or was closing very rapidly. A tiring Muster Mark was rolling out before, or maybe as, Cruz made his move.
Second, if the Stewards felt there was sufficient room for Cruz, then Muster Mark's off-line wobble caused the problem.
Winner Cheguei, when he did come off a straight line, did so after Muster Mark had begun rolling. It seemed a fairly clear sequence of events.
My own opinion is that Cruz went where there was no real room - and then made the best of it by attempting to secure the race in the Stewards' room. Good luck to him, it is all in the game.
And full marks to the Stewards for getting it absolutely right. Even if the tea had turned cold by the time the decision was reached.