Where champions make their mark

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 April, 2007, 12:00am

Few races have established themselves as quickly on the international racing calendar as the Champions Mile in Hong Kong, and this year's running will take the young race to a whole new level.

The Champions Mile was introduced in 2001 to fill a need in the domestic schedule for a top-grade 1,600-metre race in the latter part of the season.

Hong Kong had the International Mile in December and the Stewards' Cup a month later, but the top milers were left cooling their heels for Group One action for almost half the season.

In 2001, the race had an inauspicious beginning - a small field, a farcical pace and a final time more in common with Class Five.

But legendary trainer Brian Kan Ping-chee won the event with Red Pepper and assured club officials they should not worry about the quality of their new event as he regarded the Derby fourth-placegetter as a high grade.

Training great Ivan Allan lent his esteemed name to the race in 2002 with Jeune King Prawn, foiling Kan's bid for a second win with Red Pepper when the race shared the Queen ElizabethII Cup card for the first time.

Even better was to come when Electronic Unicorn won the race in 2003 and the Champions Mile was won by a true champion.

Second in successive Hong Kong Miles, Electronic Unicorn was the 'big horse' that hailed the arrival of a new and great Australian trainer in John Size.

He was probably the best horse in Hong Kong not to win an international event in the past decade.

In 2004, David Oughton-trained Figures provided a shock win at 34-1 to give popular German jockey Torsten Mundry the biggest win of his career, but it was in 2005 that the Champions Mile entered into Hong Kong racing folklore.

It became an international race for the first time after the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Japan Racing Association created the Asian Mile Challenge series.

The race attracted star Japanese galloper Cosmo Bulk, top British mare Attraction, and well-performed Australian Delzao, but they never figured - and nobody was looking at them, anyway.

Silent Witness had strung together a sequence of 17 starts for 17 wins, crushing all Hong Kong records and surpassing the modern North American record of super horse, Cigar.

Those wins had been from 1,000m to 1,400m, and the 2005 Champions Mile would be Silent Witness' first test at 1,600m.

The racing world held its breath to see if the sprinter would stretch his devastating form to a mile.

The answer? Yes. And no. Tony Cruz-trained Silent Witness magnificently fought off his challengers down the straight. One by one, it looked like he could win number 18 until he was beaten by 'friendly fire'.

Jockey Gerald Mosse had been ordered by trainer Cruz to make sure that Bullish Luck came to the outside to make his run, as he always did, but Mosse had no way to get there and gambled by charging up the inside rail.

One tiring rival in his way would have stopped Bullish Luck in his tracks, but the brilliant French rider weaved magically and unseen through the field, suddenly emerging into the race 50m out, arriving in the final moment to win.

It was the first defeat for Silent Witness, and the crowd had trouble finding a voice. But Cruz had the words that counted and that continue to resonate - Silent Witness was a champion sprinter but Bullish Luck was a champion miler. And Bullish Luck has gone on to prove himself one of the best milers on the planet in the two years since, winning the Champions Mile again last year before smashing his rivals in Tokyo's Yasuda Kinen.

Now the Champions Mile is part of a four-race Asian Mile Challenge that began in Melbourne in March and winds up in Tokyo in June, and the internationalisation of the race is complete.

The Asian Mile Challenge has been blown wide open because the Australian leg winner Aqua D'Amore was selected but then ruled out on a technicality, and the Dubai winner Admire Moon is here, but for the QEII Cup rather than the feature Mile.

South African trainer Herman Brown will bring the outstanding Linngari, hoping he can finally draw a barrier. The horse has produced great efforts in the Hong Kong Mile and more recently the Dubai Duty Free after having to give away big starts due to outside barriers, and a win would cement his high ranking among the world's elite.

Australia's Anthony Cummings, son of legendary trainer Bart Cummings, will bring top three-year-old miler Casino Prince, globetrotting trainer Mike de Kock his talented Kapil.

Even with the shock absence of Armada, the likes of Bullish Luck, The Duke, Floral Pegasus, Good Ba Ba and Joyful Winner await as a collectively powerful home defence team.