Ascot wrangle reveals foreign raid problems
The compromise reached on Monday over how many days trainer Danny Shum Chap-shing can spend away with Little Bridge for his Royal Ascot campaign was probably the only reasonable option for both the trainer and the Jockey Club, but that it came up in the first place was a reminder of one of the difficulties in travelling horses from here for major events.
More than one overseas campaign has been abandoned on the basis of staffing problems for the trainer, most notably when David Ferraris had considered the Cox Plate for Vengeance Of Rain.
It is a frequent stumbling block, especially in the case of Little Bridge since Shum is not only the trainer but the horse's permanent work rider. And Shum's experience in having taken Indigenous and Firebolt to Royal Ascot for Ivan Allan is also a unique asset that can't be duplicated, not matter how good are the trainer's best employees.
Overwhelmingly, the best results for Hong Kong horses overseas have been the fly in, fly out kind of campaign rather than the land and camp brand of attack - although of course David Oughton was able to get great results in Australia and at Ascot with Cape Of Good Hope when he was there for an extended time.
The longer campaigns are more of a strain on trainer, horse and the travelling staff and, as we have seen at different times, that strain grows over time and appears to have a significant negative effect on the results. Doubtless that is what Shum was trying to avoid with his request to remain with Little Bridge for the whole English preparation, and he has a point regarding which operation is easier to run by remote - is it his one horse in a totally unfamiliar environment or his 59 other horses in their regular accommodation at Sha Tin, where the staff can probably handle the daily routine in their sleep.
At least with the 14 days agreed absence this week, Shum gets to choose the times that will be most valuable in his assessment as to the preparation of the sprinter for the King's Stand Stakes, a race Little Bridge is well up to winning - provided we see him turn up at his best. He is superior to Sweet Sanette, who managed third last year in the same race, and that provides some confidence but, Cape Of Good Hope aside, Ascot has proved a bridge too far for Hong Kong runners, even in the sprinting ranks where they might have been expected to perform well.
For various reasons, Sacred Kingdom, Happy Zero, Joy And Fun and Firebolt have failed to produce their real form there, and the shoe is on the other foot vis a vis the Hong Kong Sprint - with the Hong Kong horses and not the Europeans at the end of their season at this time of year.