Trainers of HK trio play down Yasuda hopes
Alan Aitken in Tokyo
The absence of a high-profile Japanese hero in Sunday's HK$17.8 million Yasuda Kinen in Tokyo has surprisingly handed Hong Kong's three trainers the heaviest burden of public expectation.
Local racing media impressed on Paul O'Sullivan, trainer of Fellowship, Tony Cruz (Beauty Flash) and John Size (Sight Winner) that the standard of the home defence was not as strong in previous years and the trio will carry the highest international ratings, but O'Sullivan was certainly wary.
'Yes, the three Hong Kong horses might carry the highest international ratings in the race, but those ratings have been achieved at home, where our horses just walk across to a track where they know every blade of grass,' O'Sullivan said.
'We see in the internationals at Sha Tin every year that our horses are hard to beat on home ground even if other horses have better ratings. Now the boot is on the other foot, so I'm not taking the Japanese horses lightly. The home ground advantage could nullify any rating advantage.'
Cruz said he believed his four-year-old, Beauty Flash, was the best of the Hong Kong trio, but he had little knowledge of the opposition.
'As far as my own horse is concerned, he has just been so professional for a horse who is still young and having his first overseas campaign,' Cruz said. 'He didn't lose any weight on the trip over here, he is eating well and I couldn't be happier with him. Of course, I want to see him perform in the race on Sunday because that is the whole point, but if he can do that then we might have even bigger plans for him this time next year. I can see him coming here again and maybe even going on to England after it.'
Neither Fellowship nor Beauty Flash was out to break any records over 800 metres on the Fuchu turf yesterday, coasting around with both trainers admitting that having a feel of the turf course was one of their objectives.
'All of Beauty Flash's preparation has been done, but I did want him to have a look at the track where he will race. He's just breezed around, very easy and relaxed, and pulled up clean,' Cruz said.
In recent years, local frontrunners like Laurel Guerreiro and Kongo Rikishio have ensured a fast tempo in the Yasuda Kinen, but just as the local superstars are absent, so are the bold speed horses, with the major lead-ups in the Yomiuri Miles Cup and Keio Hai Spring Cup modestly paced.
'Beauty Flash will be coming out of the gates running again, as he used to do,' Cruz said. 'He was trained not to come out too quick for races like the Derby Trial and Derby, where we were stretching his stamina, and that was why he didn't come out quickly in the Champions Mile. He was carrying through that training, and that probably cost him second place, but for this race, I want to see him coming out fast.'
Like Beauty Flash, Fellowship was having more of a 'leg stretch' than a workout in his 800-metre turn. 'He's very fit, he pulled up fine and he doesn't need anything fast,' said O'Sullivan, who did have some concerns at the gelding's weight loss on the trip over. 'He's a busy horse and the flight, the new surrounds at the riding school quarantine then moving again to the racecourse, it's all had an effect and his weight was down.'
When Fellowship was weighed yesterday morning he was 1,140 pounds - short of his best racing body weight. 'He has raced well in Group Ones from 1,166 pounds to 1,186, but he doesn't look light to the eye and he is putting it back on now,' O'Sullivan said. 'Hopefully by Sunday he'll be back to his fighting weight. I'm probably more concerned to see him draw a good gate - the 1,600 metres does stretch him to his limit so an easy run through the race will be important.'