More should be done to get stayers ready for big races
When David Ferraris pleaded for more staying races to get Liberator, or his ilk, ready for the Longines Hong Kong Vase in December, it was hard not to sympathise with the South African trainer.
Local horses have gone into the Vase over the years even second-up - like Packing Winner, beaten just over a length by Doctor Dino in 2008. In most cases, they go in with two runs under the belt, and that is still insufficient to have such horses at their peak on international day when they are trained on flat-circle tracks and pitted against stayers from elsewhere with full preparations behind them.
At the end of the day, though, everything to do with 2,400m racing here is bizarre - how do you have your only three races each season over a particular distance all as Group races, two of them Group One?
We are quite prepared to back that as a unique situation anywhere on the planet.
Stayers take time. Stayers take long care and patient slow build-ups. In this part of the world, owners don't like them and punters don't particularly like them.
So, mostly, the horses which become 2,400m stayers in Hong Kong do so because they are too slow for anything shorter or versatile to be able to extend. It is an unusual individual who would go out looking specifically for a 2,400m horse to buy for here.
The Jockey Club has abdicated any responsibility to real staying horses under the heading of not trying to be all things to all people. On National Day, we ran a Group race for sprinters which attracted only seven runners - and sprinters are supposed to be our stock-in-trade. The club's fear is a high-grade staying race would generate even less interest.
If the club did put on an extra distance race somewhere to help prep the Vase horses, it would hardly be a first in itself. Eighteen years ago, the club programmed a HK$910,000 race over 2,300m at Sha Tin at the third meeting of the season, just so River Verdon would beat his three rivals and pass a vital qualifying clause to ensure he would get into the field for the Melbourne Cup in the offing.
His winning odds are recorded only as money back, so it wasn't about betting, but we fear it would require a gesture of that type to answer Ferraris' call and attempt to help the local horses win the Vase.
But it isn't as though rich, long-distance races are scarce elsewhere and maybe the only answer is to think outside the box, and outside the Vase. If Liberator is underdone for the Vase and can't produce his real form, hopefully Ferraris will get the subsequent chance to take him overseas to find his right distance when he is fit - the alternative is watching the horse whack his way through a succession of local events until something suitable comes along next May.