What does the speedy trio of Little Bridge, Cape of Good Hope and Green Birdie have in common? All are top-class sprinters who each won Group Ones on foreign soil. That’s one correct answer.
But more interesting, and telling, is all three were stretched to 2,000 metres in the expensive annual search for Hong Kong Derby glory, where common sense and the future considerations of a horse give way to sheer vanity-inspired madness.
The HK$16 million BMW Hong Kong Derby isn’t until March 17, but Derby fever is already in the air – as anyone with an eligible horse starts dreaming and the media asks every winning trainer and owner whether they are aiming for the Derby.
And nothing illustrates the lack of horse sense of owners, and the whip hand they wield in their relationship with trainers, more than the litany of ill-considered and often disastrous Derby entries throughout the years.
Green Birdie had at least won over 1,800m in the 2008 Derby trial – what is now known as the Classic Cup – on his way to a third in the big one. But Little Bridge and Cape of Good Hope? They couldn’t run 10 furlongs down a mineshaft and both count last-placed efforts in the prestigious Group One as career-worst efforts.
Little Bridge was beaten an embarrassing 45 lengths in the 2011 Derby, the same year the Tony Cruz-trained Multiglory was a controversial omission.
Multiglory had won over 1,400m, but his best form was over 1,000m when he was thrown into the first leg of the four-year-old series – the Classic Mile. It’s a fair enough race to test the waters – 2011 winner Lucky Nine is a world-class sprinter, but he also “gets the trip”.
Matthew Chadwick had Multiglory out in front, merrily doing his front-running thing in the Classic Mile, when it quickly became the “Cataclysmic Mile”. At the 200m, an invisible but impenetrable brick wall called lung capacity and lactic acid build-up stopped Multiglory in his tracks. He pushed on to another lead-to-the-straight and stop-like-he’s-been-shot effort in the Derby Trial.
Despite Multiglory being four and having the required ratings points, Hong Kong Jockey Club officials left him out of the Derby field.
It seems owners are blinded by the pursuit of what stands alone as the race to win in Hong Kong. And we say owners, because trainers nearly always admit, off the record and with a roll of the eyes, they are bowing to the however-unrealistic demands of owners.
These owners seem to think along the simplistic lines of “My horse is four and he has a high-enough rating – we’ll be running in the Derby”. On the flip side to the sprinters-cum-wannabe stayers are the super expensive imports about to be unveiled in the next month or so.
They’re bought with classic European pedigrees and a ready-made rating that puts them straight into the big races, whether they’re in form or not.
This year’s poster child for the sky-high price tag and the matching pressure and expectation is Akeed Mofeed, with trainer Richard Gibson the man in the hot seat.
Akeed Mofeed’s rumoured price tag of around US$2 million illustrates the lengths owners will go to in search of a Derby: if that rumour is right the colt has cost nearly twice as much as the first-prize cheque.
It’s an all-or-nothing gamble. If it doesn’t work out you can be left with a stayer with scarce opportunities to run over suitable trips and recoup that multi-million dollar outlay.
At least Akeed Mofeed got through his first trial outing with a “pass” last Tuesday. It doesn’t look like he’ll become the next Cheers Joy, who bombed in his first trial around this time last year and hasn’t got any better since.
The racetrack whispers have Cheers Joy costing US$1 million plus. He was then sent to master trainer John Size. Since then Cheers Joy has racked up some big numbers – unfortunately, they’ve been in the “lengths beaten” column where he regularly registers double-digit defeats.
Yesterday, he played pest in the middle stages of a 1,400m Class Three and it’s a sign of how bad he is going that a 10-length last could be considered a relatively solid effort.
It must have stung for his owners and the other open cheque book-wielding operators to then see Size win last year’s Derby with Fay Fay – a horse patiently taken through the grades after arriving as an unraced and relatively low-priced horse.
Of course, it can be done with an expensive acquisition and the show-off dinner and lavish post-Derby parties might be worth it for the winners, but what doesn’t work is trying to make the equine version of Usain Bolt run a half-marathon.