Arculli has chance of a gift with Red Cadeaux
Ronald Arculli has a long list of achievements in both business and racing, but should his English-trained stayer Red Cadeaux win the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase, it will feature prominently on the influential business leader's already overflowing mantlepiece.
The former Hong Kong Jockey Club Chairman wears many hats; head of the Hong Kong Exchange and senior partner of one of mainland China's biggest law firms among them.
At Sunday's International Races, however, he will fill his favourite role, being one of 70,000 screaming fans at Sha Tin.
Twenty years after Hong Kong Triple Crown winner River Verdon captured the formative version of the Vase for Arculli, Red Cadeaux will be out to avenge his narrow Melbourne Cup loss to Dunaden in the staying feature.
'The Vase today is an International Group One. When I won it the last time in 1991 it was a domestic Group One ... so it would be nice to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that win,' he said.
Arculli grew up near Happy Valley racetrack, but his passion for racing was truly cemented as an 'impoverished law student' studying in England and desperate to back a winner.
'You put your 50p on a horse and if it wins you have a steak and if it doesn't you have a piece of toast,' he said.
That thrill of a small bet soon parlayed into horse ownership and big race wins across Europe and in Hong Kong. Arculli maintains an interest in more than 10 horses, or 'too many', as he puts it.
Owning thoroughbreds is far from a money-making exercise for most, and for the astute Arculli, the attraction of racing is his love of equine athletes.
'Number one for me, is the horse itself,' he said. 'The horse is a beautiful creature, the way it can move at over 1,000 pounds is amazing.
'It's the combination of man and beast - it's quite interesting and challenging. Racing is absolutely exciting, there are very few things better than the feeling after seeing your horse go past the winning post first.'
But what about watching your horse go past the post a desperately narrow second in the world's biggest staying race? A race where the difference between first and second is A$2.7 million (HK$21.4 million)? Add to that an agonising wait while the judge examined the photo with a magnifying glass to separate the runner-up and winner.
'That was probably the longest few minutes of my life,' said Arculli.
Red Cadeaux proved in Australia he wasn't just a typically one-paced English stayer, showing a handy sprint at the end of 3,200m at Flemington.
Even the proud owner admits 2,400m is a 'trifle short' for Red Cadeaux and the horse would prefer softer ground, but he sees other factors in the gelding's favour.
'He doesn't like turns, but at least at Sha Tin the bends are nice and gradual and there is a good 400m home stretch,' he said.
'Even though he has won over 2,400m four times and more than any other distance, that was when he was four years old, now he is five he would like it a bit longer.'