Dao Dao's invitation puts the ball in owner's court
The Jockey Club has had to soften what was previously a hard-line position to invite Australian galloper Dao Dao for the Champions Mile on April 26, but the welcome might be offered through gritted teeth.
The list of invitees will be announced at a special function at Happy Valley at noon today and Dao Dao will be on the list for the big metric mile, which boasts a 50 per cent increase in prize money to HK$12 million as the third leg of the Asian Mile Challenge.
Dao Dao was one of two open-class horses, who owner Lee Kwai-sang surprisingly 'retired' in May last year.
He sent the big Shinko Forest gelding to Australia to John Hawkes, the champion trainer who separated from Bob Ingham's Woodlands Stud to set up a training partnership with sons Wayne and Michael. Hawkes senior had been Dao Dao's original trainer in Sydney.
Slow Waltz was the other Lee horse to be taken out of the system here.
He had arrived in Hong Kong as an 86-rater, but under the tutelage of John Size won three from 11, including the Group Three Hong Kong-Macau Trophy last year. Slow Waltz was sent to Singapore to join the stable of John Meagher.
The Jockey Club was none too impressed by Lee's actions, with the only reason coming to light being that he wanted to support Hawkes by giving him a decent horse.
In a season when Class One and Two horses were a bit thin on the ground in Hong Kong, having one owner 'retiring' two perfectly sound animals with 100-plus ratings did not go down well at Sports Road. Lee may have gained a sense of that when he applied for two special replacement permits after taking Dao Dao and Slow Waltz away, only to have the Jockey Club refuse to issue them.
Lee is still eligible to apply for normal permits and, although everyone at the club swears to the randomness and integrity of the permit balloting each season, it won't be any surprise if Lee's luck runs against him for the foreseeable future as he attempts to bring his next smart horse to town.
Dao Dao has had two starts since returning to Sydney and won handsomely on a heavy track at Rosehill last Saturday as the third leg of a Darren Beadman's treble.
Incidentally, the Champions Mile represented Dao Dao's arrival on the Group One scene 12 months ago after winning handsomely at three of his seven starts, but he disappointed when eighth behind Good Ba Ba and Armada.
Slow Waltz failed at his first start in Singapore on the polytrack on March 13, but a subsequent barrier trial win by a huge margin suggests he's quickly coming to terms with the change of environment.
He should do well there, and not only because the friendly handicapper welcomed him to the Lion City on a mark of 94 - a 12-point discount from his Hong Kong mark of 106.
It's to be hoped Lee now has a better grasp of Jockey Club sensitivities and takes the opportunity to mend some fences when he's here for Champions Mile week.
Dao Dao being invited was pure pragmatism on the part of the club and should not be construed as a sign that all is forgiven.