Formidable HK seek clean sweep of internationals
The invading force has rarely been stronger but the 21-year transformation of Hong Kong's best racehorses from easybeats to world class is set to peak at Sha Tin today with the home team capable for the first time of a miracle clean sweep of the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Internationals.
No single jurisdiction has ever managed the feat - although Japan landed three in 2001 and three locals put in a carbon copy the following year - but with the Jockey Club in its 125th anniversary year, there would be no greater celebration of just how far the city's racing has come in its relatively brief professional history than a whitewash.
Holding aloft the bauhinia flag is trainer John Moore, with seven international runners - perhaps a good omen for the home defence, as the last Sha Tin trainer to have as many runners in the features was the late Ivan Allan on a glittering day in 2002.
And Moore believes he has live chances in all the internationals, even the lesser-fancied side of his yard that takes on the might of Australia's firepower in the Sprint.
'There's a little cloud over Inspiration after the internal bleeding problem last time but he seems over it and I'm hopeful, but indirectly, he gives me a lot of confidence about One World's chances,' Moore said.
'One World is in better form going into this than Inspiration was when he shocked everybody last year, so it can be done.
'In the other races, I couldn't be happier with anything about my runners except the draws and as Darren Beadman said, it just means he has to deliver some 10 out of 10 rides.
Win all four? 'Well, that's just a dream but if I can win one or two I would be thrilled. Even just having this many international runners, with these horses I've bought as yearlings or chased down from Europe as tried horses, is very satisfying.'
Local horses have won 15 of the 40 December internationals contested in the past 10 years, but nine of them in the last five years as evidence of the rise to being legitimate competitors with world-class visiting runners.
The Sprint has belonged to Hong Kong's fastest and even the Mile trophy has stayed at home as often as it has left. At the longer trips, the Cup has been won only infrequently but the glaring hole in the local record has been the Vase, with only one Hong Kong win in its 15-year history - and that 11 years ago by Indigenous.
While the Europeans have virtually owned the race and are strong again, at last Hong Kong has managed a worthy challenge with Viva Pataca, Thumbs Up and even Packing Winner.
Jockey Brett Prebble promises to be another key figure on the day, describing sprinter Sacred Kingdom as being in his best form since the Australian took over the seat earlier this year and Thumbs Up as 'a forgotten horse' for the Vase.
'Sacred Kingdom has never felt more comfortable under me. When he ran first-up, he blew out at the end of the race but you could feel his foot was a bit tender too as he came back. Now he's feeling perfect,' he said.
'Thumbs Up has been a little bit forgotten in the Vase, which is fine with me. I was a touch disappointed with his second run back, but since the blinkers went on he's a new horse. When he won the trial the other day, his sectionals were as good as Scenic Blast, a world-class sprinter. And I keep thinking back to the mile race Christophe Soumillon won on him last season when he came off a slow pace and just took off. He's shown he can stay, but he's got the turn of foot that separates horses.'
Prebble has been in the form of his life and is aboard key horses all afternoon, even away from the showpiece events.
'International races are tough to win, everybody wants them. With a bit of luck, I might be able to get one. The exciting thing about some of my other rides is that they're the horses we might be seeing this day next year in the big ones,' he said.