On the Rails

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 April, 2010, 12:00am

The winning form of Happy Contender and to a much greater extent Sweet Sanette is going some way to debunking the popular view that females don't do well in Hong Kong racing. While they have long held their own in international events as highly rated visitors, the girls have been an infrequent part of racing on a full-time basis and even less frequently successful.

The 1976 Derby winner, Corvette, the 2003 Derby winner, Elegant Fashion, and the 1999 Hong Kong Sprint runner-up, Crystal Charm, have been pretty much the only place to turn for confirmation that females can perform here.

Even then, Crystal Charm only won two races in total and Elegant Fashion won twice in 2002-03 and twice again the following season.

There may have been others, but we can only recall Regal Thrills (2006-07) and Fortune Princess (2005-06) as other female winners.

With three wins for the season, Sweet Sanette is already the best-achieved female here we know of, at least in those terms. Everything she has done so far suggests she will be competitive when thrown in with the big names, but don't expect the successes of Sweet Sanette and Happy Contender - a remarkable five wins for the term - to bring an influx of fillies.

There is still more to be gained for them in other jurisdictions, where age and gender-restricted races give them a softer chance to earn black type and enhance their value.

Jockey Greg Cheyne pointed out that Sweet Sanette has relatives in the upcoming National Sale in South Africa, but the reality is that her wins here in non-Group races will do little for their value.

In another jurisdiction, she would have no trouble finding Group races to suit and build her value as a broodmare - in Hong Kong, where the breeding tail has never had the chance to wag the racing dog, her achievements have been limited to cold, hard stakes.

It's a pattern that applies across the younger males, too. There were mutterings of 'overrated' regarding Leading City after he was beaten on the weekend, though Douglas Whyte believed the youngster didn't handle the softer conditions.

If Leading City was based elsewhere and racing against his own age, he would have found the right target event to already be a Group winner.

It's the illusion, the protection provided by age racing, that horses are presented as better than they are. (The only example we really get to see here is the four-year-old Triple Crown of Classic Mile, Derby Trial and Derby - based on the ratings of the runners, these are Class One rather than Group One or Two events, though the ones who come out on top are the better ones of their year and expected to move to the head of things as their generation turns five.)

In this environment, three-year-olds race against more physically mature and tougher opposition - horses which may not have their natural talent, but have been battle-hardened even in the middle levels of competition, and Leading City finds himself handing them big chunks of handicap as a start at present.

The three-year-olds that do overcome it and rise to Class Two are seriously talented.

Fillies and mares also get little allowance for their gender and must claw their way to the best of company before they do.

Sweet Sanette is there now - up to a 109 rating after Saturday - and clambered into the top echelon, but how much credit she or her relatives really get depends on how she handles the next step.