Why Hong Kong racing needs the Champions Mile to return to QE II Cup day
All racing eyes around the world turn to Hong Kong and to Sha Tin on Sunday for the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup, a race that shapes as a gladiatorial contest between our best middle distance horses and international raiders from Australia, France, Japan and the United Kingdom.
But what if racegoers and punters weren’t just treated to an exciting QE II Cup, but also had the opportunity to see the mouthwatering clash between Able Friend and Luger in the Champions Mile?
Four years ago, that would have been the case, with both races run on the same day. But since 2012, commercial reasons have seen the QE II Cup run the week before the Champions Mile – a decision which may keep sponsors happy but takes away from what could be quite a racing spectacle, a day to rival the December international meeting.
Now’s the time for the Jockey Club to right a wrong and return the Champions Mile back to the same day as the QE II Cup – especially with the Champions Mile no longer having a sponsor.
In the end, that’s all it comes down to – sponsorship. It was BMW’s sponsorship of the Champions Mile which saw the races split, and despite their deal ending in 2013, the races have not been reconciled.
BMW came aboard as sponsors of the Champions Mile in 2011, and wanting their sponsorship dollars to go further, demanded their own raceday. Therefore, from 2012 onwards, the QE II Cup was run the week before the Champions Mile, and the 1,600m feature has been poorer for it since.
Last year’s race was a beauty, with Variety Club making a mess of a strong Hong Kong contingent that included Able Friend, Glorious Days, Gold-Fun, Dan Excel and Blazing Speed. But how much better could it have been as an event if it was run 45 minutes after Designs On Rome and Military Attack fought out a grand QE II Cup?
Many years visitors have to make a choice between whether to attend the QE II Cup or the Champions Mile. It’s hard to stay for both, although last year was an exception, with the Asian Racing Conference held after the Champions Mile. For the majority, though, the QE II Cup will win out, especially given the placement on the calendar.
The first weekend in May is traditionally the time for two of the bigger three-year-old races in the northern hemisphere – the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, the first of the English classics, followed a few hours later by the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
Like it or not, the Champions Mile – a race deserving prime billing – gets lost on the global scene, a negative when the Jockey Club’s focus is on commingling and global expansion.
Even the tantalising prospect of Able Friend confirming his Royal Ascot plans, or perhaps new kid on the block Luger knocking off the established star, is not enough to raise the race to top billing. It’s akin to the third support act at a big concert, and such a race deserves better than that.
What’s not to say David Hayes, Pascal Bary or Hideaki Fujiwara might have brought a miler across too to run in the Champions Mile if they were on the same day? (Ed Dunlop is left off this list as Red Cadeaux made the trip on his way home from Australia.)
Mike De Kock brought horses across for both races last year, with Vercingetorix third in the QE II Cup and Variety Club the Champions Mile winner, but the likes of De Kock are few and far between – and with most of his older brigade injured, he will instead be in Louisville as he has his first Kentucky Derby runner in Mubtaahij.
The QE II Cup will always be the top spring race – prize money, prestige, a storied history and a more established place on the world calendar ensure that is the case – but that doesn’t mean the Champions Mile deserves to end up on the scrap heap, especially when our mile ranks are traditionally so strong.
In fact, maybe it is time to consider boosting prize money for the Sprint Cup, making it an international race and thereby creating a feature raceday on the last Sunday in April. The Sprint Cup is already a lead-up to the Krisflyer Sprint in Singapore and to Royal Ascot for our horses, and for prize money of, say, HK$10 million, it could easily attract sprinters from Japan and Australia looking to embark on overseas campaigns. Even European gallopers could be enticed across, given there is a lull between Dubai and Royal Ascot for top class sprinters.
In time, the spring feature raceday could easily become a mini-HKIR – a late season event to rival its December counterpart. But first, it’s important to get the two big races back on the one card.
Jockey Club officials confirmed on Thursday that the separate dates were already locked in for 2016, but that it would come up for consideration for 2017 with a decision to be made this time next year – sponsorship pending.
Here’s hoping a sponsor comes aboard who wants to see the best spectacle possible – the best racing on a single day.