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With a mundane month and a half behind us, the real stars of the show -– the top horses in town -– are arriving just in time to save us from a Class Five-induced case of clinical depression. But there’s one personality that could supercharge this season -– a guest stint from perhaps the biggest name in world racing, the recently “freelanced” legend Lanfranco “Frankie” Dettori.
Dettori and Godolphin have separated after 18 years of celebratory star jumps and if the 41-year-old is looking for a new challenge professionally - then bumping elbows and matching wits with Whyte, Prebble and Purton at Sha Tin and Happy Valley is as tough as it gets. But this is also about what the hugely popular winner of more than 500 Group races could do for the sometimes-staid sport here.
Consider this a public plea to Frankie, and to Hong Kong Jockey Club officials to do whatever it takes to get him here, to come and save us from plunging into another mire of mediocrity once the afterglow of international day and its fascinating build-up fades.
With most of the international-bound horses resuming later than ever before, there’s been a gaping and obvious void of on-track talent at the start of this term. When the early season highlight was Packing Whiz winning a glorified Class One, the biggest story in the local press was “Barriergate” and the major talking point is Douglas Whyte-ridden favourites getting beaten -– you know it’s been boring. If there were an early season soundtrack, it would have been muzak.
Good horses will carry us from now until December, when a new infusion of riding talent will have arrived with “Frankel’s jockey” Tom Queally the most notable fresh face.
We can’t wait for Queally to be booked on a Class Five-bound slowcoach on a rapid freefall through the grades, just for the rider’s reaction and for entertainment value. It will be like he got out of a Ferrari and into Fred Flintstone’s foot-powered Flintmobile.
Queally is forever destined to have the words “Frankel’s jockey” permanently connected with his name -– but his stint in Hong Kong will develop his skills and holding his own in the competitive furnace will win respect from racing aficionados.
Dettori doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone - but if he wanted to provide a point of comparison with the 21-year-old wunderkind who has replaced him in royal blue -– Mikael Barzalona -– then Hong Kong is the stage to do it on.
Barzalona’s stats from last season’s short stint in Hong Kong say it all -– 42 rides for one win, a dirt-track victory after box-seating from gate one on St Didar, celebrated with a trademark stand-in-the-irons salute a la his famous Epsom Derby moment on Pour Moi. The tight racing style was new to Barzalona, so we can cut him some slack, but the feedback from rivals -– obviously marking harder considering reputation - was that the kid didn’t cut it competitively this time round.
Earlier this week we talked about how Zac Purton’s emergence as a genuine rival could be the competitive catalyst for Douglas Whyte to come out swinging - imagine the electric energy if you throw Dettori into the mix?
The man’s mere presence would have every rider lifting their performance levels from an already lofty benchmark, and Frankie’s star power would provide a spark on the dreary days where lowly Class Fives and Class Two cup races can drag the turnover-dictated calendar into darkness.
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