Schutz's fix-me-up job qualifies as a great training effort
“Great training effort” is a line routinely trotted out after a feature race win, and often the plaudits are given to the big names. But many of the greatest training feats are by those nowhere near the top of the premiership tables and in the lower grade races.
Of course, the actual “great training” takes place far away from the spotlight of race day, or even track work, and lies within the countless patient hours and ingenious work of a gifted and knowledgeable horseman.
Last night Andreas Schutz won the Sutherland Handicap with a horse named Little Dreams, just another Class Two handicap on one of many nights of racing at Happy Valley each year. Given the circumstances, though, it qualified as a truly remarkable effort by the German.
Other than on racedays, Little Dreams hasn’t even broken into a gallop since the start of September, let alone step outside the Olympic Stables compound where he is trained. The rising eight-year-old’s aching joints – courtesy of a litany of leg problems over the past few years – mean he hasn’t so much as dug a toe into the unforgiving all-weather track surface at Sha Tin. Yet this season Little Dreams has won two of three and now has a rating of 98.
Here is his veterinary record for major injuries and surgeries. Five years of vet training could provide some more perspective on the list, but Lesson 101 in vet science (thoroughbred racehorses) could be that terms like “bone fracture”, “stress fracture”, “tendon injury” and “bone fragment” aren’t good. What the record doesn’t list is the hours spent bandaging, icing and stretching a horse like Little Dreams’ legs.
It’s a minor miracle the horse is even still racing, but Little Dreams didn’t just turn up last night: he was named best from the yard by parade ring expert Jenny Chapman, then went out and performed accordingly.
Schutz has kept Little Dreams fit by swimming the French-bred import daily, even on raceday, as well as walking and through slow and steady rounds of the trotting ring. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Schutz performed the miracle act: he is a fourth-generation horseman from a great racing family, a former amateur jockey who took over the running of the family’s stable in 1998. He then won the German Derby five times in the next seven years and trained the 2004 World Racing Championship winner Epalo.
Yet Schutz now has three wins next to his name and sits near the bottom of the Trainers’ Championship. Why?
Schutz arrived in Hong Kong and received what could be seen as his biggest blessing, but it may have turned out to be his biggest curse. Good Ba Ba was a once-in-a-lifetime talent, Schutz winning two Hong Kong Miles with the horse before its controversial departure from his yard. Good Ba Ba’s owner John Yuen Se-kit took the advice of his feng shui expert, transferred the champion, and it triggered a procession – or a charge of wildebeests across the Serengeti, as David Ferraris would put it. The questioning of the feng shui by owners at the Schutz stables became a self-fulfilling prophecy and the stable production dropped to a low of 12 wins in 2009-10.
Often the fix-me-up jobs on injury-plagued horses are the making of trainers – just ask John Size. The master trainer made his name as a renovator of crocks, both here and in Australia. Maybe Schutz’s success with Little Dreams’ can convince owners to come stampeding back to his yard. Such is the fickle nature of Hong Kong racing, it wouldn’t be a surprise.