Gold-Fun’s Royal Ascot defeat caps Hong Kong’s worst season on the world stage in over a decade

It has been almost 10 years since a Sha Tin-based horse didn't win a Group One abroad, while it is nearly 15 years since the locals had such a poor record in the international features at home

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 June, 2016, 9:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 June, 2016, 11:19am

Expectations can get out of hands in this world but, in sheer black and white terms, Gold-Fun’s brave second in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot put the seal on Hong Kong’s worst international season in over a decade.

With Werther’s QE II romp finding him a place in the top few horses in the world on the most recently published list, it probably doesn’t feel that way, but that is what the results are saying as we look back over the Group racing season now that it is complete.

Overseas, there wasn’t a Group One win for Hong Kong for the first time since 2007-08 – although there was Rich Tapestry’s Group Three in Dubai as a consolation and honourable defeats at Royal Ascot and in Dubai.

At Sha Tin, the home team was the least successful it has been since all five (then) international races went to offshore connections in 2001-02, with Peniaphobia’s Hong Kong Sprint and Werther’s QE II Cup the only results. In fact, since 2001-02, you could take a strike rate of better than 50 per cent for the home team in Sha Tin internationals to the bank – 46 out of 76 trophies stayed here.

Away from home, the contrast was major as it came off us being spoilt winning four Group Ones overseas in each of 2013-14 and 2014-15. And it was, in part, about changes in the landscape.

In Dubai, Hong Kong’s horses had handled Tapeta well (and that surface had meant the absence of the North Americans) but the switch this year to a track surface somewhere between the Sahara Desert and Okefenokee swamp saw them disappear without trace there. Losing Singapore was a giant blow, given that Hong Kong had won both the big events there for the past three years, and numbers of campaigners were down as well as the returns. Who knows? Perhaps Aerovelocity might have won again in Japan to keep things ticking but for the colic attack, but he didn’t.

At home, the standard of the visiting runners in races that Hong Kong might normally expect to win was the telling factor. Well, that and Able Friend’s injury in the Hong Kong Mile when we don’t have much doubt he was going to walk in. But, equally, we might wonder how the QE II Cup might have turned out on a firmer surface.

Like Aerovelocity’s “coulda”, they are things we can’t ever know.

What we do know is that we have (at least in theory) more opportunities for foreign horses next season to confront a Hong Kong side that may lack a superstar unless Able Friend returns to something like his old form or Werther can carry that April wet track blitz on to firmer going. Or another power emerges.

As game as Gold-Fun was last weekend – and he probably wins the race if it is like it usually is, 20 runners and a strong gallop – he is getting to an age where we shouldn’t be expecting him to carry the team in the future, but kudos to connections and to Richard Gibson and his team.

Getting horses to front up in form when they travel overseas is the tricky part. Getting them to win, well, that falls under the usual provisos that decide horse races – luck in running, tempo, ability.

It couldn’t be said that Gold-Fun didn’t turn up so that’s the job done for the trainer, who has battled this season at the bread and butter level with just 16 wins for the term but Gibson remains one of the hopes of the side at a higher level.

It could almost be said that he is heading down a similar path to David Oughton, the trainer that he ostensibly replaced. Oughton was not normally a contender for any championship honours but always had a high quality horse or two capable of winning him Group Ones.

Since Gibson arrived in 2011, he has had 77 runners in Group races here for 14 wins. That compares over the same period with John Moore’s 53 wins from 548 Group runners in Hong Kong, Tony Cruz with 21 wins from 262 runners, John Size’s 17 wins from 170 runners and Caspar Fownes’ 12 wins from 151 runners. Yes, it is flattered by eight wins for Gold-Fun, but he also won Group races with Akeed Mofeed, Giant Treasure, Dundonnell and Ambitious Champion (dare we forget him), and flattered by being a smallish sample. In the same time frame, Tony Millard has won with eight of 72 Group runners, mostly Ambitious Dragon.

So it is flattering in statistical terms and might not hold up as the numbers become larger, but it is still a record that shows his good horses have turned up to play.

Gibson made his name globetrotting with Doctor Dino and it might be a positive for the sake of the high grade figures if he were to keep finding the right horses – we keep looking past the time when John Moore isn’t training and there are plenty of question marks out there.

Schofield suspension a no-brainer, but will somebody please think of the punters?

There was no mystery to Chad Schofield’s last-race suspension on Sunday – another in a series of bans which have held the young rider back this season in what has otherwise been an impressive debut.

Schofield has racked up 18 meetings worth of suspensions – including the ban received on Sunday that he will serve early next term – and will be as disappointed as anyone else with that statistic. He presented the stewards’ panel with an open and shut case on Nitro Express and had little option but to plead guilty.

But, while officials have certainly carried out their duties with regard to safety, did somebody drop the ball regarding the consequences of that interference from the punters’ perspective?

Howard Cheng Yue-tin on Hang’s Decision lost any opportunity to be a position closer in running and, because he was checking back while Nitro Express kept pressing forward after the incident, soon found himself several lengths behind Nitro Express getting to the home straight.

Officially, he was three and a quarter lengths behind Nitro Express at the 400m and beaten just a half length by him for fourth on the line. Surely, somebody considered a protest?

Cheng certainly could have had a throw at the stumps and, while stewards are not usually in the habit of encouraging objections based on interference at the 800m, it probably should have been subject to at least an inquiry for the sake of the HK$10.4 million held on Quartet and First Four betting.