Can't wait for the real fireworks on Sunday
In the midst of the craziness it is time for reflection. It feels like halftime of international week, so let's take a peek back at International Jockeys' Championship night at the Valley, and a look forward to the Hong Kong International Day on Sunday.
Looking back on Wednesday
Is there anything horses hate more than fireworks? Some answers provided when it was put to @KemblaCoxy's Twitter constituency: angry dogs, pointy hats, former trainer Andy Leung Ting-wah, handicappers, barbed wire, marching bands and giant Longines watches, apparently. The sponsor’s display in the centre of the parade ring seemed to freak a few horses out on Wednesday night, but it was hard to predict it would. Fireworks, meanwhile, get rid of them.
The opening ceremony wasn’t as prolonged and painful as Dubai World Cup night’s explosives extravaganza, but still, why the hell would you set a firecracker off on a racecourse? A laser show perhaps? That could work. It just needs to be something to alert the punters something different is about to happen. Anyway, the hardy Hong Kong-trained horses didn't seem fazed, they live in apartment buildings at Sha Tin anyway, so are probably just glad to get out of the house for the day.
The golf carts that took the jockeys out to the opening ceremony also have questionable appeal – the return route on foot to the weighing room was much more fun as the hoops got up close and personal with the crowd, drawing a fantastic response.
Credit to Christophe Soumillon, we knew the Belgian was brilliant, but he managed something truly astounding on Wednesday. Soumillon was essentially charged for trying too hard, and then not trying anywhere near enough in the same race. After barging clear at the 150m mark and cleaning up a few runners aboard Both Sure in race four, Soumillon decided he’d had enough of riding hard close to the line and dropped his hands. He went from desperate and nearly unseating Keith Yeung Ming-lun, to “meh” in an instant. The lack of vigour late in the piece may not have cost him a finishing position but it cost him a stint on the sidelines equal to six Hong Kong meetings.
Looking forward to Sunday
What a match-up this promises to be. Lucky Nine, the local hero, up against Japanese machine Lord Kanaloa - a horse that simply looks unstoppable. Both laid the hammer down at trackwork during the week.
Lucky Nine's trainer Caspar Fownes said "when I looked at the watch and then how easily he was doing it, my jaw dropped”, after a sizzling gallop on Monday morning. The reaction might have been much the same on Wednesday when Lord Kanaloa ripped through his workout.
If you haven’t seen it, watch it. The times were 21.4 seconds for the final 400m – at the end of a solid 1,200m – and 10.3 for the last 200m. The background jet-engine noise was in fact a plane, not a rocket pack on trackwork rider Shogo Yasuda’s back.
Can Lucky Nine turn the tables on this freak competitor? There was a case made on Twitter (okay, we are already on shaky ground here) that Lucky Nine would have beaten Lord Kanaloa in the 2012 Sprinters Stakes had he not missed the start. Well, Lord Kanaloa ran 1.07.1 for 1,200m. Going quicker than that is pretty hard.
Watch this clip and make your own mind up. It features Cantonese commentary, but also some requisite highlights of Japanese racing: a man in an immaculate white jacket and gloves, in a cherry picker waving a red flag, a brass band, odd camera work and a slow pre-race hand clap by the world’s best race fans.
Squeezed in between the four feature races on Sunday is a Class Two Handicap featuring one of Hong Kong’s real up-and-comers. Able Friend has the size, stride length and calm disposition to make him a star. Big races are great, and will provide some memorable moments – but there's something about a horse storming through the grades that is special. Don’t miss this.