Apache Cat is in the mood for a big scalp
If Australian star Apache Cat breaks the local grip on the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint on Sunday, it will continue a happy accident for trainer Greg Eurell and the owners who should have been waving the horse goodbye several years ago.
Eurell, a former Olympic equestrian rider, has an unknown Hong Kong owner to thank for letting him keep a horse which has taken him on the greatest of rides.
'When he was a two-year-old, he won a black-type race, the Gibson-Carmichael Stakes in Melbourne over a mile, and David Hall was interested in buying him for a Hong Kong client,' Eurell recalled. 'We went through all the routine procedures, the vets, the negotiations and that all went smoothly. All that was left to do was for David to show the video of the horse to his client here and when he did that the owner saw all the white on the horse and didn't want him. And I can't thank him enough.'
All that white and a big, bald face and Apache Cat's quality and versatility have made him a huge crowd favourite back in Australia in five seasons of racing, during which the gelding has collected six Group Ones from 1,000m to 1,600m in all types of going and in both directions.
The past year has been his career high point, winning five Group One races in succession between February and May, right in line with Eurell's view of Apache Cat.
'I honestly believe each season he has got a little better,' he said. 'He's a quality horse and he doesn't knock himself around. Because he doesn't use himself, that's given us this longevity with him and it has been fantastic for me as a trainer.
'He has had no physical problems, which enables us to focus strongly on a preparation and stick to it - you know what you want to do with him and you do it and you're not playing patch-up and catch-up. I think that makes a huge difference when you're running in Group races.'
In a career of 32 starts for 16 wins and seven placings, there haven't been too many performances that have left Eurell scratching his head but Hong Kong was almost cancelled for Apache Cat a second time last month after he flopped as odds-on favourite at Flemington.
'There was no excuse for the run and hopefully it remains a mystery and never appears again. It would have been hard to come here on the back of that, but then he ran in Perth and Takeover Target just beat him so at least we knew he was back to the Apache Cat we know and that gave us the confidence to get on a plane and come over,' Eurell said.
'I think he really enjoys the travel, I think it keeps him a bit more on the ball - he knows he's here for a race. I did expect that, having gone to Perth then back to Melbourne and then to here, he had every right for the edge to be off him a touch but he's as good as he's ever been. That was his final bit of work today, he'll go quietly now into Sunday's race and if he can have some luck at the draw, he'll be right in the mix. We haven't a single negative to focus on.'