South Africa's Variety Club aims to buck trend in Champions Mile
Highly rated South African star looms as a big threat to Hong Kong dominance
Variety Club's winning record says it all - not a lot bothers the chestnut whose international career was held up for so long by his owner's devotion to racing in South Africa and by the quarantine issues that restrict all stars from that country.
"He was supposed to travel from Dubai with the QE II Cup horses, Sanshaawes and Vercingetorix, but he had to come by himself," said trainer Mike de Kock's travelling assistant, Trevor Brown, ahead of the HK$12 million Champions Mile tomorrow.
"That isn't always ideal, but he's taken it very well. Full marks to him, he's such a professional."
No one could doubt that, with 16 wins from 22 starts, and Variety Club looks the best-credentialed visitor to arrive for the race which has never been won by an overseas horse.
De Kock inspected Variety Club on Friday, but thought he required no more than a jig-jog around the quarantine trotting ring - unusual, perhaps, but in keeping with Brown's comments after the stallion worked on Thursday.
"He went 1,200m, picked up his fractions from the 600m and that was all he needed," Brown said.
"He ran three times in Dubai, we haven't backed off him since and he arrived very fit. There isn't much for him coming up in the next month or two so this is the race we've kept him going for."
De Kock has won the QE II Cup twice and the Hong Kong Cup twice but, of his five starters in the Champions Mile, four have been at huge odds and only Musir's first tilt in 2011 considered a legitimate attempt - he finished third, a half length from Xtension.
"As far as milers go, Musir was a top horse but Variety Club is the best we've brought," said Brown.
Many horses of his calibre head overseas long before their 19th start, but at that stage Variety Club was still carving them up in South Africa for owners Markus and Ingrid Jooste.
"Mr Jooste is a big owner-breeder back home, a big supporter of South African racing, and I respect him for wanting to race there as long as he did," Brown said.
"In the end, I think he was egged on by other people saying, 'Come on, you've got to take this horse abroad - what more do you want from him in South Africa'?"
Like other South African horses, Variety Club went through months of quarantine purgatory to travel to Dubai through Mauritius and England, before winning two of his three runs - the same path J J The Jet Plane took to winning an historic Hong Kong Sprint - and, having got over that, Variety Club won't be going back any time soon.
"Now that he's an international horse and doesn't have to go through all that quarantine, we plan on campaigning him on the world stage," said the Joostes' racing manager, Derek Brugman.