De Kock loves Hong Kong - on and off the racetrack
South African trainer Mike de Kock has assembled an impressive record in less than a decade of chasing international riches and his Hong Kong performances have been no exception, so it's hardly a surprise to see him back to defend his title in the QE II Cup tomorrow.
Though his major focus early in each year is on Dubai, De Kock has found Hong Kong's spring meshes nicely into his schedule as the next port of call, on both a professional and personal basis.
'Apart from having a good record in the races here, I love the place,' De Kock said. 'I really enjoy the city and if I can come here with a chance to win a major race then so much the better.'
His first attempt was with unplaced Right Approach in 2004, but defeat did nothing but whet De Kock's appetite, and he has been back for the QE II every year since, even throwing in a Hong Kong Cup win for good measure last December with Eagle Mountain.
He went close with Grey's Inn four years ago, but has got the mix just right more recently, taking the major prize with Irridescence (2006) and Archipenko last year.
De Kock is back with Archipenko but, in contrast to last year's brilliant Dubai Duty Free lead-up when unlucky at Nad Al Sheba, the five-year-old returns on the back of a flat sixth in the same race behind rampaging front-runner Gladiatorus.
'It was a disappointing run but there were a couple of things,' De Kock said.
'First, we probably made a tactical mistake going out and chasing Gladiatorus, who is probably the best horse in the world at the moment.
'Gladiatorus is one of those horses that is very difficult to formulate a plan against - he goes out in front, leads by big margins and runs them into the ground and we thought that the best chance to beat him was to try to go with him.
'But if you look at that Dubai race, all the horses up the front chasing him had nothing left in the straight and those that made any ground were those who didn't do much early in the race.'
But de Kock says the tactical battle wasn't the only one Archipenko lost in Dubai, there was a fitness skirmish, too.
'We had been battling with a respiratory problem in the lead-up to the Duty Free, too, and I think you'll see a different horse on Sunday,' he said. 'Like last year, he's done very, very well since he stepped off the plane here. He didn't drop any weight and has been eating and drinking well and the couple of workouts he's had have been quite impressive.'
In the Champions Mile, De Kock is introducing Imbongi, a relative newcomer to the world circuit but he is hopeful of a first four finish: 'He's a four-year-old on the way up. He was just short, probably a half length or a length short of Group One in South Africa, but he ran well in Dubai on Super Thursday behind Balius, who finished second in the QE II last year so he's a pretty decent guideline.'