Gordon Lord Byron is the name on everyone's lips for Hong Kong Mile
Late-blooming miler emerges from obscurity and revels in his first plane trip
First time he went to the races, Mile hopeful Gordon Lord Byron went so badly he was pulled up after a furlong. And this time last year he was languishing in the relative obscurity of Friday night racing in the northeast of Ireland, twice beaten in modest handicaps on Dundalk's all-weather track.
Those races were held in front of no more than a few hundred hardy fans in the dead of winter and afterwards trainer Tom Hogan couldn't possibly have predicted what was in store this year.
On Sunday, in front of more than 60,000 fans, Hogan's four-year-old will attempt to break the stranglehold local heroes Ambitious Dragon and Glorious Days seemingly have on the HK$20 million race.
"There'd be lucky to be 500 people there at Dundalk on a Friday night. There's just no comparison to this, it's amazing to be here," Hogan's son and assistant, Andrew, said yesterday.
Gordon Lord Byron has risen quickly through the grades, but the latter half of 2012 has seen him find red-hot form. After a Listed win at York, he was a second to Society Rock over 1,200m on firm going, and then booked his HKIR trip with victory in the Prix de la Foret over 1,400m on heavy ground at Longchamp.
The gelding has travelled like a seasoned professional, despite this being his first trip outside Europe, and proved it on Monday when he wowed track watchers with an exceptional piece of work.
"It was the first time he had been on a plane and he travelled great. We came last Thursday just to give him extra time to settle in," said Hogan.
"We weren't that concerned with him flying because he is such a relaxed horse. He is always relaxed on the lorry at home, and there were no problems when we took him to France."
Hogan's horse must be a late-bloomer, given the slow road he has taken to get to top company, and the fact he has had something of a growth spurt through the middle part of this year.
"We still think there's some improvement there with him - in the summer he was still growing. Sunday will tell us a lot about him," Hogan said.
Tempo and tactics in the Mile are crucial as shown by Able Speed's upset win last year, but Hogan said it would be left to jockey William Buick to map out a plan. "We'd like to see him mid-division, but we'll leave it up to William. He doesn't need to be given any instructions, he knows what to do," he said.