Dubai next for gallant Collier

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 December, 2006, 12:00am

English stayer has new target after Vase triumph

Collier Hill's remarkable story may have yet another chapter even after the gallant eight-year-old claimed his third Group One victory in the HK$14 million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase (2,400m), as connections consider a trip to Dubai.

The Alan Swinbank-trained gelding has already performed way beyond his connections' wildest expectations after being purchased as a potential hurdler for the princely sum of about #5,000 (HK$75,900) from a cast-off sale.

The Dr Devious gelding won 12 races heading into yesterday's feature, including two over hurdles, and went into the race in career-best form after successes in Sweden and the Group One Canadian International at Woodbine.

Despite his strong form, Collier Hill was sent out an 11-1 chance, while Japanese raider Admire Main was heavily supported, and success looked anything but likely as the field passed the 1,000-metre marker.

Jockey Dean McKeown was hard at work on Collier Hill but the game gelding somehow managed to switch into another gear approaching the home turn and dart around the field to take the lead.

Just as it seemed Collier Hill had the race in his keeping, signs of distress started to appear, as did the baldy face of the John Oxx-trained mare, Kastoria.

McKeown managed to coax Collier Hill over the line to win by a nose from Kastoria with the Alain de Royer Dupre-trained Shamdala working home well for third, one length away.

'When I won the St Leger on him I was flat to the boards a long, long way out,' McKeown said. 'The one thing the horse does is respond to you off the bridle. The more you ask of him the more he'll find.

'The last 100 metres felt like an eternity. It felt like I was climbing up one of the faces of Mount Everest to be honest. He's done us proud.'

Mark Player, the Jockey Club's international racing manager, said it was a great result for such a tough and consistent horse. 'I visited Alan [Swinbank] at his property, just south of Newcastle in England and I imagine I would have been the first racing official from anywhere to visit there,' Player said.

'Until I talked over the proposition with Alan, they would have targeted the Melbourne Cup with Collier Hill. But ultimately they changed tack and went for the Canadian International and the Hong Kong Vase.

'Good luck to them. They've now won Group Ones on three continents and it's a fairy tale come true for a wonderful group of people and a good, honest, talented horse.'

The Collier Hill show now rolls on to Dubai in the hope of avenging defeats in his last two appearances in the Sheema Classic (2,400m). The gallant chestnut finished fourth to Rakzalla in the 2005 running before a game second to Heart's Cry this year.

While the connections of Collier Hill were basking in glory, the Kastoria camp were left wondering what might have been.

The Irish St Leger winner was the hard-luck story, suffering interference turning for home before rocketing through in the final stages, only to come up painfully short.

'I was in the perfect position behind Collier Hill but I got shut out on the turn and it cost me three to four lengths,' jockey Michael Kinane said.

The big disappointment was Admire Main, who was sent straight to the front under Yutaka Take but found little when challenged early in the straight.