Jet Plane back and ready for lift-off, reckons Houdalakis
When J J The Jet Plane arrived back in the South African stables of trainer Lucky Houdalakis, connections weren't counting on ever using the frequent flyer miles he had racked up in the previous year of racing in Dubai and England.
J J The Jet Plane had left Houdalakis with seven wins from 10 starts and huge expectations, but, despite winning the Group Three al-Quoz Sprint in Dubai, and a Listed race in Great Britain for trainer Mike de Kock, his form tapered away in unsuitable English conditions after a tough campaign that spanned two continents and as many trainers.
'The only time I had a fall-out with the owner I was in South Africa and by this time the horse was with Richard Hannon in England, so I rang him and said I don't want to tell you what to do, or interfere with his preparation, but why don't you just leave him to have a break and get him ready for the Hong Kong Sprint,' Houdalakis recalled.
'He had just run a shocker in the Sprint Cup at Haydock, but of course they entered him that Saturday anyway, and he ran better and finished third, so they put him in a race the next week, too.
'He had four runs in a month, then he had to come back through quarantine, and by the time he came back to me in December of last year he was dead tired.'
This was when connections decided to cut up J J The Jet Plane's frequent flyer card, resigned that he would only race in South Africa in an attempt to revive his old form. 'No horse had ever come back from an overseas campaign and won a Group One in South Africa, so he started 7-1 when he first raced in the Golden Horse Sprint in May after having five months off to get over England,' Houdalakis said.
'He blew them away in that race and then he won the Group One Mercury Sprint six weeks later, and we had to sit down and work out what to do with him, because there are not many opportunities for him to race at home at the top level in South Africa.
'If he runs well here we have no choice but to continue to travel with him, and we'll certainly consider going to Dubai with him directly from here.'
Houdalakis and connections had considered an earlier trip to the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint, but a narrow miss in timing the quarantine period prevented him coming in 2008, and his taxing campaign in England put a stop to it last year.
'When I gave him to Mike de Kock, if I remember correctly we missed the cut-off by four days on getting into quarantine in time, then he did that whole England and Dubai story, so it has taken us a while to get this plan back on track,' he said.
'It's very difficult with the quarantine requirements coming from South Africa - 90 days - and we're very lucky he's a sprinter who doesn't require much work. Coming here with a mile-and-a-half horse would be very tough.
'I was able to do a little bit with him while he was in the quarantine zone, and despite a stuff-up with the flights which set us back five days, we still arrived 12 days ahead of the race and we've been able to give him enough work since arriving.'
Houdalakis oversaw J J The Jet Plane's work yesterday before taking him for a look around the parade ring to familiarise the horse with the layout of the course.
'I'm more than happy with how he looks, and we have a clear picture of how he should look before a big race now,' Houdalakis said.
'He really only started growing as a four-year-old. He was still a two-year-old when I gave him to Mike, so when he came back to me from Dubai and England he had really matured. Hard going, soft going, round the turn or up the straight, it doesn't bother him - he's just a freak.'
Those rare qualities were what finally persuaded Houdalakis to roll the dice with flying the Jet Plane back across the Indian Ocean to compete in Hong Kong.
'The owners were very keen to come to Hong Kong, but it is an expensive trip and I would never have come if I didn't believe he is good enough. I'm sure he will measure up. He beat Sacred Kingdom the only time they met,' the trainer said.
'The way of going doesn't matter, he's won both, he's won firm and soft. He'll handle anything. It doesn't matter too much where he is in the run, but if they let him lead as he likes then they will wish they hadn't.
'I'm not expecting that to happen with so many speed horses in the race, but I'm not that concerned where he sits early on.'