Draw gives some a flying start

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 December, 2004, 12:00am

It was nothing but a plastic toy aircraft, but from the way people reacted to it, it could have been worth millions. Eighteen million, to be exact.

The model jumbo jet in question was one of 14, each bearing a barrier number, distributed to entrants in Sunday's Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup as part of the barrier draw ceremony yesterday morning.

For some, discovering they had drawn an outside gate, the little plastic plaything elicited muffled curses and sagging shoulders. For others, like the owners of Australian entry Fields of Omagh, an inside gate prompted cheers and whistles.

Michael Bolton, manager of the No Big Deal Syndicate which owns Fields of Omagh, said the team was overjoyed with the result.

'We're really rapt and looking forward to Sunday,' Mr Bolton said. 'We knew how important this barrier draw was going to be ... and [drawing barrier three] gives him every chance to get a position, get settled and get placed for the finish.'

He had little sympathy for those upset by their draw in the $18 million race. 'That's the draw, you've got to take what happens.'

Starting gates for the fields of Sunday's three other races - the 2,400m Hong Kong Vase, 1000m Sprint and the Hong Kong Mile - were also drawn yesterday morning.

Looking on with interest was former two-time Hong Kong champion jockey Philip Robinson, who will be riding Rakti in Sunday's race. 'It's like a second home for me here,' said Robinson, who rode at the top level in Hong Kong during the 1980s and 1990s. 'It's evolved into one of the best places for racing in the world.'

His words were echoed by French owner Alec Wildenstein, who is hosting Russian racing and government officials in Hong Kong during the international meet.

Racing is on the rebound in Russia and there are many people ready to throw large sums of money into expanding its profile there and around the world.

'In three years these guys are going to make the people in Dubai look like paupers - this is their mentality,' Mr Wildenstein said. 'They asked me 'where is the best race course?' so I told them: 'Do not go to England, don't come to Paris. Go to Hong Kong'.'

He said racing had a long history in Russia and the prospect of its resurgence boded well for racing's future.

'I'm just a fanatic of racing, so it makes me happy if there are more places to for people to go and enjoy good racing,' Mr Wildenstein said.