Internationals a winning formula sure to go from strength to strength
Hats off to the Jockey Club for presenting an outstanding Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races meeting on Sunday, despite the clear impact of equine influenza.
While the sole Australian representative, Miss Andretti, would probably have been that country's only participant in any case, the meeting was hurt by the absence of more Japanese runners, which have been a large contributor to the meeting in past years.
Nevertheless, the small Cup field provided one of the highlights of the day with a super ride from Frankie Dettori on Ramonti stealing the race over Michael Kinane and Viva Pataca. Let's hope we never see pacemakers taking the jockey's skill out of racing's equation here as they do in Europe. The game is not about the best horse but the best combination of horse, trainer and rider. John Moore's comment on Viva Pataca's defeat was the right one: 'We'll just have to take him overseas to prove what a champion he is.'
The Mile was as deep a race as you would see and a triumph for Andreas Schutz and Olivier Doleuze. Sacred Kingdom was sensational in the Sprint and connections are looking overseas - perhaps the newly announced Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint would be an option next year, among the other, already established events.
Even the Vase was a triumph for the club. Aidan O'Brien gave the club's international racing manager, Mark Player, full credit for the world's highest-rated horse Dylan Thomas being present. That he ran below form was a combination of prior circumstances and even some interference in the race, neither of which was under Player's control.
One or two things have become obvious for the future of the meeting, and one obstacle that has been identified by Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges is going to take some thinking to get over.
After a sweep out in 2005, the Sprint was changed from a straight 1,000m to 1,200m to dispel the idea that the race was a specialist course where Hong Kong sprinters had a huge advantage. In some ways, Miss Andretti's failure around this way is a great disappointment for the club, as a bold run from her would have made the mountain look somewhat easier to climb for foreign connections looking at next year.
After another sweep out last weekend, with the first five finishers locals, the Sprint might be heading the way of the Japan Cup in struggling to get legitimate foreign contenders, though of course without the quarantine assistance that race received this year.
Another highlight, as usual, was the Godolphin horses turned up and ran well, while their arch rivals from Ballydoyle still seem to be wrestling with the proposition. Whatever the underlying issues, O'Brien has still only turned up with one horse who was even reasonably competitive, finishing fourth in the Cup with Powerscourt several years back, and like everyone else will need to start targeting the race more specifically to not suffer the same fate every year.
Once it might not have mattered to Coolmore, but it is a fact now that only pretty serious horses win in Hong Kong.
The extra prize money for support races brought the required boost in depth for those events, turnover was up, though with an extra race.
The Jockeys' Championship again worked well and will continue to do so. The club may look at expanding the competition from three races, but it will certainly look at betting on the outcome next year.
Whatever the results or the changes, where the CXHKIR meeting is a clear winner is its exceptional organisation and execution as a week for racing professionals, participants or fans.