Picking the right race for horses is key: top trainer

Michael Chang stays cool as his charge Dibayani goes for QEII Cup glory at Sha Tin on Sunday

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 April, 2014, 3:59am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 April, 2014, 3:59am

Training horses is a lot like educating children, says Michael Chang Chun-wai.

Some horses, like children, are born to do well while those less gifted slip behind.

But the chances are, says Chang, a rider and trainer for more than 20 years, that an underperforming horse, like a child struggling with lessons, can do better if put in the right race or environment.

Such was the case with Rich Tapestry.

When the six-year-old bay gelding came under Chang's care last year, he was told that the horse had secured some wins on distances of 1,600 to 2,000 metres.

In Hong Kong, however, the animal struggled.

"When the horse did his morning trackwork, everyone said he was doing well. But his performances in races went downhill from losing by eight lengths to ten lengths," he said.

The trainer began to question whether people had been wrong in identifying the horse's true talent. "He sprints quite quickly. What if he is a short racer instead," he asked himself.

So he entered Rich Tapestry in 1,200m races and the improvement was striking.

The horse claimed victory in the Group3 Mahab Al Shimaal at Meydan, Dubai, and was runner-up in the Group1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at the Dubai World Cup meeting last month.

Chang, who did poorly in school in Britain, found his niche as an apprentice jockey and later a works rider. Returning to Hong Kong in the 1980s, he became a works rider and assistant trainer before getting his trainer's licence in 2005.

Now he is hoping that one of his charges, Dibayani, has also been entered in the right race.

The four-year-old bay gelding will contest the HK$14 million Group One Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin on Sunday. If he wins, Chang will become only the second Chinese trainer to claim this honour after five-time champion Brian Kan Ping-chee in 2000.

Chang is doing everything he can to avoid making mistakes, but says he isn't nervous as one race does not determine a trainer's lifelong career.

"If you keep comparing yourself to [top trainer] John Moore every day, you will get depressed," he said. "But not so much if you set yourself against those at the end of the list."