An open letter to Singapore: Hong Kong thanks you for one of the best races on the planet in 2016, the Chairman's Sprint Prize
To our dear friends at the Singapore Turf Club,
I, The Griffin, am writing this letter to thank you for what now appears to be one of the most short-sighted and stunning decisions made in world racing in the past 12 months, one that has had immeasurable benefits to your arch-rivals to the north.
Of course, it is seven months since you made the unbelievable call to simply allow the Singapore Airlines International Cup and the KrisFlyer Sprint to vanish into thin air, faster than you could say “Dan Excel” or “Lucky Nine”.
We covered it plenty back then. We were shocked, but ultimately far from surprised. It had become a Hong Kong benefit, a battle for supremacy between two of Asia’s biggest cities with D grade runners from Australia and Europe proving a mere support act.
But now that the dust has settled and the short-term ramifications are starting to emerge, it’s clear that Hong Kong has a lot to thank you for.
Without you, the Hong Kong Jockey Club would not have made the quickfire decision to try and open the Chairman’s Sprint Prize to global competition this year. The change in date from February had already been decided, but it required rubber-stamping from the International Grading and Race Planning Advisory Committee over Arc weekend in October for the doors to be thrown open to the world.
Sure, with the elevation to Part One of the blue book and with the majority of Group One races open to international competition from next season, it was only 12 months earlier than would have been the case anyway.
But it allowed Hong Kong to capitalise on a vacant spot in the calendar, prime space indeed in a jam-packed international schedule – it was like an empty lot popping up in Causeway Bay, or in Mayfair, or on Fifth Avenue, free of charge. And the Hong Kong Jockey Club pounced.
The result? One of the best races in the world, anywhere this year. I know, I know – sprinters never get the same accolades as middle distance gallopers, for some odd reason, and so a race like the QE II Cup will probably be rated higher, but in terms of buzz, excitement and quality, it is Sha Tin’s number one this year, a race that will be hard to top.
In addition to Hong Kong’s terrific crop of sprinters, both established and emerging, there are the winners of three major international sprints in the last six months – Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Mongolian Saturday, Al Quoz Sprint winner Buffering and T J Smith Stakes winner Chautauqua.
Throw in Hong Kong Sprint winner Peniaphobia, the final KrisFlyer winner Aerovelocity, last year’s Chairman’s Sprint Prize winner Gold-Fun and promising types Lucky Bubbles, Thewizardofoz and Amazing Kids and you have all the hallmarks of a vintage contest.
This is a world championship. This is a winner-take-all contest for the title of world’s best sprinter, a title that seems to have more claimants than Prince’s non-existent will.
With its position on the calendar – five weeks after Dubai and Japan, three weeks after Sydney, six weeks before Royal Ascot – it is set to become not only Asia’s stepping stone to Europe, but also a heavyweight championship bout year after year.
The sad thing is, this could have been you. The Singapore Turf Club could have been the scene of one of the world’s top races. The KrisFlyer Sprint was perfectly placed to draw speedsters from all corners of the globe.
There were years it seemed the case. Sacred Kingdom seeing off Rocket Man in 2009, with Takeover Target among the beaten brigade, comes to mind.
Instead, it’s now gone. Years of goodwill have been sacrificed. And with Hong Kong now gleefully moving into the space vacated by Singapore, it seems far-fetched that the Lion City will ever get its spot back. You snooze, you lose.
It is a shame that the world no longer converges on Kranji in late May. It is a shame for you. It is a shame for us – we enjoyed the trip, as did most owners, trainers and jockeys. They were great races to bet on. Everyone was happy.
Now, it’s simply another sign of the demise of Singapore racing, at a time when international racing is becoming more and more critical. It is no longer a fad, a novelty that is embraced by a couple of crazy connections.
Horses now travel constantly, with owners and trainers looking for the best opportunities, the most suitable races and the highest prize money, while champion jockeys are on a merry-go-round, constantly travelling between cities to ride in the world’s elite races.
International racing is here to stay, and instead of embracing it, you have jumped off the bandwagon just as it gathers momentum.
For a generation, Singapore has been a comfortable number three in Asia, behind Japan and Hong Kong but well clear of any rivals. Now, the number three position looks set to be usurped by South Korea in the very near future, as they embark on an ambitious breeding programme and begin to open their races up to the world.
Still, Hongkongers are grateful, for they get to witness a race for the ages on Sunday on home turf. Quite simply, that stems from your decision last September.
So again, thank you – the Hong Kong racing community is truly grateful, and we hope you enjoy a world class race at Sha Tin on Sunday.