Five key thoughts as the season draws to its conclusion
Just to summarise things on a sensational season of racing, we took a little look back and a sneak peek forward to give you five random thoughts on Hong Kong racing.
The two trainers vying for the trainers’ championship couldn’t be more different
Other that the tit-for-tat nature of the results at the last few meetings, what makes the trainers’ championship battle so absorbing is the contrasting styles and personalities of the two handlers – both of them superb horseman.
It’s Caspar Fownes, the crafty, risk-taking gambler, up against John Size, the ice-cool percentage player who refuses to look at the scoreboard.
The contrast doesn't stop at training styles. It's the extrovert versus the introvert. In the fashion stakes, it's the hip guy you wish was your big brother, up against an extra from Miami Vice (actually, that's unfair to Size as his wardrobe has cycled back into fashion).
One is talkative and friendly with the press, the other would rather clean out boxes than deal with the Chinese media.
Fownes’ placement of his horses is his strength and he is squeezing out wins with some horses that wouldn’t make it past the front gate at Size’s stable.
As we saw last season, Size’s strength may be his greatest weakness in these sort of late season battles – his M.O. is the steady progression of horses up to as high a mark as possible, and while Fownes can progress a horse to the upper grades, too, his brief is more about having fun, entertaining owners and winning when you need to.
In short, some of Fownes’ stock are more expendable than Size’s - worrying about whether Hurry Hurry Up will be hurt by another run when he has already raced what seems like 1500 times this season isn't a concern.
Plus, Fownes has Class Five horses, Size does not – he doesn’t have a single horse rated below 40. What Size does have is a stable with a dozen or more “next season” projects that aren’t ready for the races. Although Fownes himself admits that perhaps he sometimes hangs on to horses too long for the sake of owners, it would be appropriate if a horse like Flying Keeper were to win off 25 for him on Tuesday and help him to the title.
These observations are no disrespect to either trainer (ok, maybe the fashion one is) – it is just a difference of styles, and part of what makes racing great. When it comes to horses with limited ability, where Fownes persists, Size sometimes moves on. But perhaps the master’s renowned patience and pickiness make him a touch one-paced in this type of situation. Still, Size has the Sha Tin advantage in that the last two meetings are at his “home ground” and Fownes has no Happy Valley meetings left to pull off his usual high nights in the city.
It’s too damn hot for racing
At about 6.30pm at Sha Tin last Saturday, it was just about perfect weather for racing – or at least as good as it gets in late June around these parts. It was still warm, high 20s, but the sting had left the air and the searing direct sunlight and humidity had dissipated.
Unfortunately 10 races had already been run and it was time for beer and BBQs.
Earlier in the day, Captain Obvious at the Hong Kong Observatory had issued a “very hot weather warning” – useful, in case you didn’t notice the chickens laying omelettes outside on the sidewalk.
So why race in conditions more suitable for junk trips? Is it the answer to everything at Sports Road: turnover?
If there is any other reason that meetings in June cannot be twilight or night time fixtures other than protecting the betting handle, we are yet to hear it.
There is enough equine attrition at this time of the season without having to run in weather that could only have had an adverse affect on performance. That’s aside from jockey safety and welfare, and the enjoyment of spectators.
Sometimes dollars and cents isn’t a good enough excuse for everything. And common sense should hold more currency.
Dennis Yip Chor-hong’s championship win was 12 months ago and still feels like it happened in a fever dream
Let’s time travel back two years ago, and let's say I predicted Dennis Yip Chor-hong would win the trainers’ championship.
Then what if I told you he would do it with a win in the very last race of the season – edging past Tony Cruz and pulling away from John Size – and that Ben So Tik-hung would produce a majestic ride to clinch that final win? It would have been the funniest thing written that season.
After end-of-season celebration parties with horse-drawn carriages and limited edition jeans commemorating the unlikely title win, Yip's fall back to planet earth and a midtable finish is a reminder of what an amazing achievement last season's success was.
Where's the 2015 Derby winner?
Again, while we are playing “remember this time last year”, it was already becoming clear 12 months ago that the 2013-14 four-year-old class would be something special.
Designs On Rome was rated 105 and Able Friend 83, but clearly on his way up. Then there was All You Wish on 100, even if he turned into a flop and stayed where he was, remaining winless this season.
Here’s a prediction, nowhere near as ridiculous as saying the Yipster would win the trainers' championship: next season’s star four-year-old hasn’t raced here yet.
Luger is very good, and his rating could end up close to 100 after Sunday, but he might be limited to a mile and is he about to bottom out?
A few trainers are posturing like they are going to come back with a big off-season scalp from Europe – even if the market is trickier than ever.
One trainer armed with a particularly flush cheque book is Richard Gibson, buying for Akeed Mofeed’s billionaire owner Pan Sutong, who has two Private Purchase permits to fill.
As always, John Moore will be a force, and he is in the unique situation of already having a highly-rated three-year-old to sell: Group Three winner Not Listenin’tome raced in his ownership in Australia and could debut on international day in the Hong Kong Sprint.
Is Moreira really the champion in waiting?
Maybe Joao Moreira isn't the slam-dunk everyone thinks he is for the 2014-15 jockeys’ championship.
Moreira’s momentum has slowed noticeably in the latter part of the season, a reminder that jockeys can produce numbers here for three and four month stretches that are simply unsustainable in the long term. Everybody hits a flat spot as some stage.
Moreira will bounce back after a freshen-up, but is the gap between the Brazilian and the rest as big as most people think?
We've even heard the term overrated bandied about by some, but not by anyone willing to go on record – at least outside of Facebook or Twitter DMs.
Moreira is still favourite for next term, but maybe, just maybe, he will have more of a fight on his hands than many predict.