Happy Lucky Dragon Win

Redoute's Choice may be 'Thewizardofoz' but he is hardly a Hong Kong hero

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 June, 2015, 7:14pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 12:13pm

Welcome to Hong Kong racing, where the world of thoroughbred breeding and pedigree analysis gets tipped upside down and the long-held local tradition of copycat culture seems to flourish in its place.

Out to buck one of the most astonishing trends of the east Asian pedigree puzzle is unbeaten Thewizardofoz – a son of record-breaking Australian sire Redoute’s Choice, whose sons have failed on Hong Kong racetracks to live up to the high benchmark set by their father in his homeland.

Of course, Hong Kong doesn’t have a breeding industry – nor does mainland China to any great extent – and the only real qualifiers for a spot in a Sha Tin stable are, ‘Can it gallop?’, ‘Has it qualified?’ and ‘Will it pass the vet check?’

And, even then, there’s no surefire recipe for success, as plenty of imports seem to lose lengths and pounds of body weight upon arrival.

That doesn’t stop owners and trainers forming black-and-white lists of stallions that “work” and those that don’t, and until now the mighty Redoute’s – a three-time champion sire of Australia and producer of 27 individual Group One winners – has been put in the “not suited to Hong Kong” basket.

Is that fair? Maybe not.  

Is Redoute’s Choice a more successful sire than Pins? Of course, there is little doubt – at least everywhere else away from Sha Tin.

Redoute’s Choice stood for A$110,000 at the Hunter Valley in New South Wales this past breeding season – the equal highest in Australia and New Zealand (of those with publicly announced fees) – and more than four times the modest fee Pins commands across the Tasman, NZ$25,000.

Pins, however, is the sire of recently retired two-time horse of the year Ambitious Dragon, whose rise through the ranks from Class Four to Hong Kong Derby in the space of a season sparked a buying spree of his babies from sales rings and out of races and trials across New Zealand.

Thus, Pins was declared a “Hong Kong sire” and the recent exploits of Aerovelocity only further entrenched that status.

Is it not just opportunity though? Pins has 18 runners in training at Sha Tin, including Sunday’s impressive winner Packing Pins, compared to two for “Redoute’s” – and they both raced on Sunday.

While Thewizardofoz won in a style that has him earmarked for Group races, John Moore’s One More World – a half-brother to Newmarket Handicap winner Wanted – again disappointed and is now zero for five.

Overall, Pins has had 48 horses race in Hong Kong compared to just 30 for Redoute’s Choice, and that includes a couple of visitors: Pins had versatile Singapore galloper Waikato finish last in the 2008 Hong Kong Sprint, while Redoute’s Choice had the Mike de Kock-trained Musir place in the 2011 Champions Mile, as well as the Gene Tsoi Wai-wang-owned King’s Rose, unplaced in the same event a year later.

What went wrong with Redoute’s Choice? It seems he got a black mark early on and has been barred for life by some

Pins has had nearly twice as many runners in Hong Kong than Redoute’s Choice – 936 to 471 – yet his strike rate is only slightly better here than his more valuable sales-ring rival – 12 per cent compared to 10 per cent.

This isn’t to pick on Pins, a solid sire who seems to represent excellent commercial value given the higher possibility of a sale to Hong Kong – where at least A$500,000 seems to be a starting point for any sort of negotiations these days.

But what went wrong with Redoute’s Choice? It seems he got a black mark early on and has been barred for life by some.

A few notable failures by high-priced Jockey Club purchases out of the Hong Kong International Sale certainly didn’t help, and the best Redoute’s Choice yearlings were soon outside of budget for most after that anyway.

Plenty of less fashionable New Zealand stallions seem to strike here – O’Reilly (who died earlier this year), Keeper (service fee NZ$7,000) and Towkay (NZ$5,000).

But is that only because they are born in a jurisdiction where the big payday for most owners and trainers can come after winning an 800m barrier trial at Ruakaka or a maiden at Matamata, not after winning a Group One?

It does take a certain type of horse to thrive in Hong Kong, with conformation and feet able to stand up to firm tracks and with the behavioural aspect crucial in stables that can bring out the worst in an animal with any hint of anxiety.

Is it suitability that Holy Roman Emperor works, or just right place, right time?

There certainly can’t be much predictability to it when the Coolmoore stallion produces Rich Tapestry, bred for a Derby and a winner of a Grade One dirt sprint in the United States, and last season’s Horse of the Year Designs On Rome are two of the progeny – with all sorts in between.

Buying a Redoute’s Choice yearling – a commodity which came at an average of A$270,000 last year at Australian and New Zealand yearling sales, a lifetime average of A$400,000 and peaked at an average of more than A$700,000 in 2008 – comes with the expectation, or at least hope, that the horse (male or female) will have residual breeding value.

The big payoff for a colt is if he goes on to stand at stud and command a big, multi-million offer from a stud farm. So if a Redoute’s Choice is good enough to come to Hong Kong, he isn’t for sale anyway, at least not right away. So given the stakes, a gelding operation for an unraced colt that costs more than half a million dollars is a last resort.

One More World, who cost A$600,000 as a yearling, only got the snip after he went berserk and was cast under the barriers before what would have been his first race start, then failed on debut.

Even one of Redoute’s Choice’s highest earners, Lankan Rupee, wasn’t gelded until he was an older horse, a gear change that transformed him from underachieving problem child to the highest rated sprinter in the world.

As a rule fillies don’t come to Hong Kong, and it seems a rather pointless exercise to try to make a stallion by racing at Sha Tin and Happy Valley. Colts are rarely trained in the testing conditions anyway and those that do go to stud attract modest service fees and are generally poorly supported.

One stallion prospect that is here, Strathmore – by Fastnet Rock, out of Group One-winning mare Our Egyptian Raine – must get nervous every time a vet walks past his box after throwing certain victory away last start.

The difference for Thewizardofoz is that he is a homebred (as were aforementioned vistors Musir and King's Rose) and owned by the Siu family, one of the richest and most prolific group of Jockey Club owners, and for whom racing, not finding a stallion prospect, is a priority.

Money isn’t an issue for the Siu clan, either, and Martin Siu Kim-sum paid A$3 million for Thewizardofoz’s dam Princess Coup – a standout New Zealand-trained racemare who won four Group Ones, was placed in the Caulfield Cup and was perhaps unlucky not to have won more.

But even then, when it came time to decide whether to sell or keep Thewizardofoz it took some convincing from the Siu’s breeding partner at Evergreen Stud in the Hunter Valley, Tony Bott.

“I just said to them that the horse can’t read, he doesn’t know the record of Redoute’s Choice in Hong Kong,” Bott said. “This is probably one of the better bred sons of Redoute’s Choice to go up there, so it will be interesting to see if he can change some perceptions.”

Thewizardofoz is already gelded and is headed in the right direction, and is in the right hands – potential-wise he looks a lot like Size’s 2015 Derby winner Luger did as a griffin.

If Thewizardofoz does turn out to be as good as Luger, maybe we will see a proliferation of Redoute’s Choice babies bought as yearlings and bound for Sha Tin. After all, it seems all it takes is one big win and a flagship horse and you’ve got yourself a Hong Kong stallion.

Until then owners will be content to search, and pay overs, for the next Ambitious Dragon – his little brothers Triumphant Dragon (a half-brother) and Ocean Power (a full-brother) are workmanlike performers who lack size and are plying their trade in the lower grades.

Arriving on a plane recently was the half-brother to none other than Able Friend – an unraced two-year-old by promising third-season sire Manhattan Rain, also to be trained by Moore.

The big chestnut – who goes by his brand number (T407) for now – has Able Friend’s size and colour but even if he is a winner, he is on a hiding to nothing. History says it is unlikely he will have a motor to match that of his older sibling.

Breeding isn’t that simple.

And word just to hand – Strathmore was castrated on Monday afternoon.