Hall of Fame trainer David Hayes has Criterion all figured out
Hall of Fame trainer will give his Australian globetrotter another crack at the Hong Kong Cup after his third last year amid a steep learning curve
David Hayes admits that he was "winging it" with Australian globetrotter Criterion when the five-year-old kicked off an amazing 12-month journey in the HK$25 million Longines Hong Kong Cup last year, but says he knows a great deal more about the horse returning for this year's race.
Criterion had been a surprise transfer to Hayes only weeks before making the trip to Hong Kong's showpiece and the trainer's steep learning curve was hindered further by the horse having a reaction to a tick wash and displaying symptoms like those of colic.
The Australian vets almost refused to let him board his flight.
With all that against him, Criterion did well to look the winner passing the 200 metres before finishing third to Designs On Rome and Military Attack on a prep that amounted to not much more than fresh air and crossed fingers.
READ MORE: Read our in-depth guide to all of this year's Longines Hong Kong Cup contenders, HK's biggest and richest race
"He came to me last year in great order from David Payne, but he'd had plenty of hard racing in the top races in the Melbourne carnival, so coming here I took an old-style sort of view and sent him in fresh and trusted that the horse's quality would come out and he nearly pulled it off," Hayes said.
"But I've learned a hell of a lot more about the horse since then and he's earned A$460,000 (HK$2.6 million) a race in the process. And we're back this time without the hiccups, although it looks a stronger race this year if anything."
"Since then" amounts to nine Group One starts in three countries at distances from 1,200m to 3,200m and only two runs out of the placings, a fifth in the Prince Of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot and sixth in the Juddmonte International at York, both with less than ideal preparations.
Interviewed for television immediately after the stallion's third in the Melbourne Cup last month, Hayes' initial reaction was to suggest the horse had done enough and a spell was in order, but he had a change of heart and travel went back on the agenda.
"Travelling off a Melbourne Cup isn't always a smart play. It's usually a gut-buster of a run for a horse and you'll find most of the runners go straight to the paddock afterwards," Hayes said.
"But the Cup was so slowly run this year, he only had to sprint for the last 400m and it didn't take that much out of him. And I think the travel really stimulates this horse, he thrives on it and especially here.
"The feeding hay that the Jockey Club gives us, it must be the best anywhere because Criterion absolutely loves it."
Hayes and owner Sir Owen Glenn eschewed a path which has had success, bringing a Melbourne Cup horse back to 2,400m in the Vase, and preferred to bring Criterion back from 3,200m to 2,000m on Sunday.
"There are a couple of reasons for that. First, we aren't worried about his footspeed - he was a Group One class sprinting two-year-old and, even while I've had him, he ran third in a Group One over 1,300m in March, so he isn't slow," Hayes said.
"And we thought that, for his future as a stallion in Australia, a 2,000m win in Hong Kong would look better on his record than 2,400m."
That stud career is approaching, with Hayes saying the likelihood is that this current campaign - if it can be called that, since it hasn't stopped for over a year - will probably be Criterion's last.
"After this, he'll go back for The Championships in Sydney, where he won the main race last year, and then he's probably off to stud," said Hayes, a dual trainers' championship winner in Hong Kong who would dearly love to claim a big one here as a visitor.
What, no return for a second crack at the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin in April?