Shea finally makes it to Hong Kong
A contractual commitment kept Kevin Shea in Mauritius rather than at Sha Tin for the December internationals, but nothing was going to keep the talented South African horseman from being part of the action on Sunday's big Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup programme.
Shea, 44, is to ride Sushisan in the QE II Cup and Linngari in the Champions Mile for trainer Herman Brown. And after giving each of them a spin on the turf track yesterday morning, he knows they are ready for action.
Linngari bowled 800 metres on the outside of the course proper, clocking 52.5 seconds for the full journey and improving the final 400 metres in 23.4.
But it was lower-profile stablemate Sushisan who really caught the eye, lengthening out impressively in the final 400 metres to clock the exceptional split of 21.9 seconds at the end of 1,200 metres in 1:23.1.
'They both worked very nicely but Sushisan is the one who has surprised us a little,' Shea said. 'The trip away seems to have done him the world of good. When he first arrived, he was a bit unsettled but the last few days he's really come into himself. He's a very athletic horse with a tremendous stride.'
Shea came into his own when Felix Coetzee, Douglas Whyte, Robbie Fradd and then Anthony Delpech left South Africa to try their luck in Hong Kong.
'With all of them out of the way, it made a huge difference to me,' Shea reflected after trackwork yesterday. 'Suddenly, I was in demand from the bigger stables. I did six years with David Payne and 51/2 years with Mike de Kock - all told, it's been 15 years of bliss.'
Brown wanted Shea to come for the Cathay Pacific International Races last December, but he had to honour a contractual commitment for the biggest day of the year in Mauritius racing.
'I wasn't happy about it - I really wanted to be here in Hong Kong, but I'd given my word to ride in Mauritius so I did,' Shea said.
Linngari finished second to Japan's Admire Moon in the US$5 million Dubai Duty Free on March 31, but it was an outstanding run because the chestnut had to overcome the disadvantage of barrier 16. 'I spoke with Herman before the race and we agreed we simply had to go back at the start and ride for luck,' Shea said. 'So naturally, he was a lot further back than we wanted and to finish second to Admire Moon was a great run. He's beaten the third horse by almost five lengths, so it was quite a performance.'