Master Kochanwong has been punching above his weight since the day he arrived with David Hall and the diminutive dirt tracker again left his trainer and long-time jockey Douglas Whyte in awe yesterday with a career-best performance.
First-up for six months and drawn barrier 10 on a sloppy all-weather track, Master Kochanwong scored a gritty two-length win that came despite an ever-worsening throat condition that left the gelding gasping for air past the post.
“He is one of the gutsiest, most determined horses I’ve ever ridden,” Whyte said after the slightly built son of Commands pulled out all stops to overhaul bottom weight Pablosky, with track record holder and race favourite Dehere’s The Love another three-quarters of a length away in third. “The runner-up had a softer run than I did, and we were giving him weight and my horse just knuckled down. He is just a little bulldog, that’s what he is.”
Whyte has ridden the six-year-old in all but three of his starts and in each of his five wins, all of which have come on the 1,200m dirt course.
“I’ve been with him from day one and he hasn’t physically changed. Mentally, he has though, he has become tougher,” he said. “He has stayed the same individual, he looks more like a filly than a gelding – he is very feminine – but I think his heart makes up half of his body. By the time he pulled up, there was nothing left, but in the finish he just put his ears back and he wouldn’t let that horse past him.”
Master Kochanwong has shown amazing consistency to finish in the top three in 11 of his 15 starts, but since he last raced in May last year, scopes had revealed his breathing difficulties had deteriorated and he was diagnosed as a grade four out of five roarer.
Not surprisingly, Hall had his concerns about his horse leading in to the race despite some encouraging trials.
“He has been scaring us all along,” the trainer said. “Last season he started making a little noise and he showed up on the scope as a grade three, and then the noise got louder and it had got worse. If we had known it was going to get worse we would have given him a wind operation.
“We were a bit concerned, but then he trialled really well. Yet on the scope he has deteriorated, so to come out and do what he has done was just outstanding.”
Hall was left to ponder whether a trip to the Dubai for the US$2 million (HK$15.59 million) Golden Shaheen on World Cup night is warranted for a horse with so many issues, the gelding also suffering a setback with hoof problems early this season.
Yet a lack of options at home could force Hall to look elsewhere with no races scheduled through March 31 for Class One horses on the dirt: “Taking a horse away with that sort of problem is a little bit risky but I suppose I’m going to have to talk to the owners about it because what else can you do?”
One trainer already familiar with the sojourn to Meydan is Michael Chang Chun-wai, who is preparing his veteran dirt specialist Rich Tapestry for another Middle East adventure.
“He will leave on February 2 to go to Dubai and he will run in three races – the Al Shindagha Sprint on February 11, the Mahab Al Shimaal, which he won two years ago, on March 5 and the Golden Shaheen once again on March 26,” Chang said, also revealing that Gerald Mosse will ride the eight-year-old throughout his Dubai campaign.
“He’s a little bit fat at the moment, it’s hard to get weight off him during the winter, but I think he’ll be fine once he gets there. The first race in particular looks like it will be quite weak, it’s the same horses going around again.”