Egyptian Ra throws spanner in the works
Tony Cruz can take a bow for taking a well-exposed Egyptian Ra and training him to new heights as a seven-year-old. The bold front runner's electrifying win in the Cathay Pacific International Mile Trial on Sunday has breathed fresh life into the Hong Kong Mile, finding as he did the chink in the armour of Horse of the Year, Good Ba Ba.
The C-Team of Cruz and jockey Felix Coetzee have a certain chemistry together that makes an outsider wonder why on earth they ever split up their retainership. Cruz loves to train a free-running horse and there's no one on the planet better at riding them than the South African master.
Silent Witness, Lucky Owners, Helene Mascot and even Bullish Luck (for a short time) have all landed Group One victories for this dynamic duo. So when they turn up three weeks before a feature race and their horse goes out and runs the second-fastest mile in the 30-year history of Sha Tin racecourse, the fans will be paying attention and the opposition will be getting fearful.
What makes Egyptian Ra the 'problem horse' of the Hong Kong Mile is his running style. Or Coetzee's style, depending on where you wish to apply the credit.
Coetzee was masterful in rating Egyptian Ra in the lead. He defies accepted logic when he assumes this role because he doesn't try to stack a field up, conserve energy and then sprint away with a fast last 400m as most jockeys would.
Coetzee lets them bowl along. He does this by feel and it's all about the two B's - balance and breathing. When a horse is fully in its rhythm and undisturbed, it will run faster for longer. Although the horse cannot tell us what he's experiencing, he seems to get into what human runners call 'the zone' and happily keeps rolling.
Egyptian Ra (pictured)also dispelled a myth about pace. All the time, we hear trainers, jockeys and owners wanting a fast pace for their get-back-style horses. Egyptian Ra showed the downside of this to Good Ba Ba, because a horse getting back in the field, behind a good pace like this ultimately has far too much to do.
By comparison, look at the win of Viva Pataca first-up in the Sha Tin Trophy. For the simple reason Egyptian Ra didn't lead that day, the pace was only modest, theoretically favouring horses in front or right on the speed. But Viva Pataca came from last to win effortlessly.
Why? Because he was the horse with the best turn of finishing speed and because they didn't go hard up front, he was only around 41/2 lengths off them when they turned for home. By comparison, coming off a strong pace on Sunday, Good Ba Ba cornered 12 lengths off Egyptian Ra.
Stewards wondered aloud if Olivier Doleuze should have taken off earlier. Good in theory, but the jockey who does this almost certainly finds his winning run ending at the 200m. As it was, Good Ba Ba ran out of petrol around 50m from the line and Sight Winner held him for second.
Egyptian Ra flew, going a new personal best speed rating of 121 - a full five-rating points better than his previous mark. The burning question will be: can a seven-year-old reproduce that kind of performance again in three weeks?
Good Ba Ba now has a perfect foundation of two lead-up races and has performed to the same figure on each occasion - 115. It looks as though trainer Andreas Schutz will have him perfectly prepared to peak again on December 14.
The International Sprint Trial may have looked a lower-rating affair, and indeed it was, but the race still looks strong compared to historical benchmarks.
In recent years, only Sacred Kingdom (122) has rated higher than Enthused and Sunny Power (119) in this event. And even Silent Witness only rated 119 in 2004, though the great one was merely warming up for a 123 performance in the Hong Kong Sprint three weeks later.
John Size expressed the fear on Sunday the admirable, brave Enthused might have had 'too hard a run' in victory and potentially have some difficulty backing it up three weeks later. But if any trainer can recharge a horse and get him to reproduce for the big occasion, Size can.