Michael Chang double prepares local trainer for Hong Kong farewell for globetrotter Rich Tapestry
The international Group One winner, who has not run in Hong Kong for 18 months, will have his final start at his home track on Sunday, but his career is set to extend through to August
Michael Chang Chun-wai says Sunday's Longines Hong Kong Sprint will be Rich Tapestry's last race on home soil but he still plans to campaign the galloper in Dubai and on sand in South Korea before the history-making globetrotter is retired.
A dirt track double to Commandant and Noble Alpha gave Chang the chance to speak to the media and talk quickly turned to the dirt specialist that has taken him around the world.
Rich Tapestry hasn't raced at Sha Tin for more than 18 months, during which the eight-year-old became the first Hong Kong-trained horse to win a Grade One in America and compete in a Breeders' Cup race, before placing in a Group One in Dubai and racing well on turf in Singapore and Japan.
"This Sunday will be his last race here," Chang said, confirming that Tommy Berry will ride his horse in the HK$18.5 million scamper.
"I'm just a small trainer and this horse has done so much for me, I don't want to see him break down by pushing him. I've been so lucky to have him."
Chang said he would again aim Rich Tapestry at the Group Three Mahab Al Shimaal over 1,200m in early March, a race he won in 2014, followed by a start in the Group One Golden Shaheen, a US$2 million (HK$15.5 million) event the son of Holy Roman Emperor has placed in twice.
Somewhat of a surprise, however, is Chang setting his sights on the Asia Challenge Cup in August on sand at Seoul racecourse.
"After that he will be retired," Chang said.
Chang noted that both of his winners had dropped sharply in the ratings in recent times, Commandant down to 32 and Noble Alpha 30 points from his peak rating of 100 more than two and a half years ago.
"Commandant's only other win was off 39, so he got in well today and the step up to 1,800m helped him," Chang said after his horse won in a photo, prevailing by a short-head over the fast-finishing favourite Super Silks.
"He will stay in Class Five and even though there is a race coming up that could suit him, unfortunately I have another horse, Croatia, to race in that event. We might have to wait for the right race for him because the dirt is the only place where he can be competitive. It was a good ride by Karis Teetan, he is a horse that needs a lot of favours."
Noble Alpha, who also just scraped home by a narrow margin, had not won since the 2013 Macau Hong Kong Trophy at Taipa.
Chang said he would love to return across the Pearl River Delta for a third shot at the race but fears the eight-year-old won't be able to rebuild his rating high enough again: "This horse loves the give in the track there."
Noble Alpha's win was Gregory Benoist's second and the Belgian-born rider said he was feeling more settled.
"It's a very tough place to ride though," he said. "Finding a good horse to ride is the hardest part."