HK's finest target Dubai millions

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 February, 2007, 12:00am

Armada and Viva Pataca in the frame to join Vengeance Of Rain

Three of Hong Kong's best horses are targeting the Dubai World Cup, with Armada and Viva Pataca potentially joining Vengeance Of Rain for a share of the world's richest night of racing on March 31.

Trainer John Moore said he had received the approval of Viva Pataca's owner, Stanley Ho Hung-sun, to enter the 2006 Hong Kong Derby winner for the Group One Dubai Sheema Classic (2,400 metres).

And trainer John Size has entered Armada, a brilliant last-start winner of the Group One Stewards' Cup on January 28, for the Group One Dubai Duty Free (1,777m). Each of these Dubai races is worth US$5 million, making them the world's richest races on turf.

Vengeance Of Rain, the 2005 World Racing Champion who ran a brave third as defending titleholder in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup in December, is already a confirmed Sheema Classic runner, and Anthony Delpech will retain the ride.

Moore said a Dubai trip for Viva Pataca would depend on his performance in his next domestic goal, the HK$8 million Hong Kong Gold Cup over 2,000 metres on March 4.

'Firstly, he must run well in the Hong Kong Gold Cup,' Moore explained. 'Then we have to hope the Dubai Racing Club can see its way clear to offering us an invitation to the race.

'But if both those things happen, then the owner has given his blessing to have a crack at the race. It's over 2,400 metres and we think that distance is ideal for him now that he's fully mature.'

Size's commitment to the trip with rising star Armada is a little more tenuous, but the trainer spoke positively to the Dubai Racing Club this week about the horse who is now officially the best thoroughbred in Hong Kong, with a domestic rating of 130.

Size has never had a runner outside Hong Kong since moving here from Sydney in June 2001, but said he was 'seriously considering' the race.

'I haven't [previously] had the right type of horse to take overseas, but Armada is very straightforward and does everything correctly,' said Size 'He has done all we've expected of him this season, and the Dubai Duty Free is certainly an option.'

Last year, Hong Kong had two runners at the US$21 million extravaganza, which is run under lights - and usually clear desert skies - at Nad al-Sheba racecourse, about 20 minutes outside of downtown Dubai.

Tony Cruz took his Group One winning milers Russian Pearl and Bullish Luck to Dubai last year, for the Duty Free, but was left lamenting when they struck a turf track that was heavily biased in favour of horses closest to the rail, and the Cruz horses drew outside barriers.

Meanwhile, trainer Caspar Fownes has pulled the plug on the planned Melbourne campaign for Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile hero The Duke, who had been tentatively aimed at the Futurity Stakes (1,600 metres) at Caulfield on March 3.

The Duke disappointed with sixth to Armada - whom he had beaten in the Hong Kong Mile - in the Stewards' Cup, with Armada turning a head defeat on December 10 into a 43/4 length decision over The Duke seven weeks later.

Fownes put The Duke into quarantine at Sha Tin on January 31, but aborted the Futurity Stakes quest after inspecting the Danehill gelding upon his return from the New Zealand yearling sales at the end of last week.

The Duke will now be aimed at the Group One Champions Mile at Sha Tin on April 29.

This year, the Champions Mile and the HK$14 million Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2,000m) will be run on the same programme, giving the Jockey Club a springtime mini version of its annual December showcase.