We need a little sunshine, say Treasure Beach's team
Alex Cole spent part of yesterday nervously looking out of his hotel window for the weather prospects after an outside draw had been the first blow to Treasure Beach's chance of carrying off a rare head-to-head between the classic form of Europe and Hong Kong in the HK$14 million Audemars Piguet QEII Cup.
The 2011 Irish Derby winner, Treasure Beach was just a head off being the first Epsom Derby winner to appear at Sha Tin and European classic horses are more normally part of the pedigree than the opposition for Group Ones here, so the chance to line up Treasure Beach is a precious one.
'Frankly, we came here with high expectations,' said Cole, the racing manager for Jim and Fitri Hay, who bought half of Treasure Beach before the Dubai Sheema Classic, and the horse now runs in the ownership of Mrs Hay along with the heavyweights from Coolmore. 'I've been out to see the horse and he looks great. He has run in Ireland, France, the United States, Canada and Dubai in his last six runs so he has had plenty of practice at travelling and he takes it well. All the reports have been that Treasure Beach is in great form.'
But Cole's confidence was dulled by Thursday's barrier draw and he was just as concerned at the adverse weather reports.
'He doesn't really want soft ground,' Cole said, and added that there had been no firm tactical decision made regarding barrier 13 for the Aidan O'Brien-trained colt. 'What he does will very much depend on the pace of the race and we'll leave it up to the man on top, Jamie Spencer.'
Only two Hong Kong Derby winners have ever backed that win up with a victory in the QEII Cup the same season, Vengeance Of Rain and Ambitious Dragon, and Sweet Orange's trainer David Ferraris is well aware of the history.
Unlike his 2006 Cup winner Vengeance Of Rain, Sweet Orange has not won the Derby but has been unlucky in one, and the South African trainer heads into this afternoon with some confidence.
'The Irish horse looks very strong but, if you take him out, this probably isn't as strong a race as Vengeance Of Rain won,' Ferraris said. 'I think these four-year-olds, Fay Fay and my horse, are up to the task. What we always have in our favour is that we just have to walk to the track - the visitors have had to travel and that is no advantage.'
One of the reasons offered for the moderate record of four-year-olds going to the QEII Cup has been the need to peak again after being aimed at the Derby all season.
'Usually the horses from the Derby have been well prepped for that and it takes a toll, and now they have to come up against older, more experienced horses and lift again. The very best have done it - Vengeance Of Rain and Ambitious Dragon, but it isn't easy,' said champion jockey Douglas Whyte, looking for back to back cups on Fay Fay.
'In this year's four-year-olds, we've had a different result every race, with the stop-start tempos and you could probably throw a blanket over a few of them. It has been difficult to get a guide on who is really the best and this race might help to sort out the men from the boys.'
The 'second peak' factor was something John Size had in mind immediately after Fay Fay's Derby win on March 18 and he expressed a reluctance to think about the QEII.
'I was doubtful how well he'd pull up. It was a fairly gruelling trail and usually that's enough when you consider where he came from to get there,' Size said this week.
'But, surprisingly to me, a month or so later he had done well and looked good, so we trialled him and he trialled nicely and I was happy for him to press on.
' I expect him to repeat his Derby run. I said six weeks before the Derby the best horse would be the one who adapts to the circumstances of the race and goes and wins it.
'Ferraris was hugely disappointed with the unlucky defeats for Sweet Orange in the Classic Cup and Derby, but, if there was a bright side to those letdowns, it was that the four-year-old goes into today's QEII Cup with petrol in the tank.
'You couldn't say that he was spent in those races - he was full of running at the finish both times, so he has some left,' Ferraris said. 'And for a change, he's drawn a gate where Weichong Marwing will have all the options regardless of the pace.'
The Aidan O'Brien-trained Treasure Beach must do it the hard way after drawing this barrier for the QEII Cup at Sha Tin