Trainer Dennis Yip Chor-hong already cemented his “local legend” status with a 2012-13 championship win for the ages but if Secret Weapon can repel the Japanese juggernaut in Hong Kong’s richest race, well, immortality awaits.
Yip taking the trainers’ title with a win in the final race of the season in front a packed house at Happy Valley had the unexpected nature of Leicester City’s English Premier League charge combined with the drought-breaking emotion of Cleveland bringing home the NBA trophy later in the year.
Put simply, in the modern era, Chinese trainers don’t win the championship, and none had for 12 seasons until Yip did, and now he is eyeing something few of his compatriots have managed of late either, lifting one of the four trophies on international day.
“If Secret Weapon can win this international race, I will be very happy and it would be a great honour,” Yip said, the trainer aiming to be the first Chinese handler to win an international day feature for seven years when Secret Weapon contests the HK$25 million Group One Longines Hong Kong Cup.
Perhaps there is also some symmetry in the fact that when Yip won the trainers’ crown, he followed his former boss Brian Kan Ping-chee, who had been the previous Chinese trainer to win, in 2000-01.
Now, Yip is out to emulate his mentor again, given no Chinese handler has won the Cup since Kan took the first incarnation of the race with Flying Dancer in 1988, when it was an event restricted to horses from Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.
Now the Cup is a very different beast, containing some of the best middle-distance horse in the world, and of course the local landscape looks different too, but Yip is still bullish about his chances against a Japanese quintet that seem to have the race at its collective mercy.
“Of course I would be proud to do it and although it looks hard, my horse beat Hong Kong’s horse of the year Designs on Rome in the last start, so I hope he can beat Maurice, the Japanese horse of the year too,” he said.
Nash Rawiller rode Secret Weapon last start but misses the big day through suspension and will be replaced by Zac Purton, who played a pivotal role in that famous championship win. Purton won more than a third of Yip’s 69 races in that fateful season and victory on Secret Weapon would help the jockey make some history of his own.
The Australian could join Gerald Mosse as the only jockey to have won all four “majors”, with the Cup the only international day feature to elude him after triumphs in the 2014 Sprint aboard Aerovelocity, the 2012 Mile on Ambitious Dragon and his superb tactical display to steal the 2013 Vase on Dominant.
To win on Sunday, Purton might need to produce similar magic, but what is almost certain is that Secret Weapon will have to run another solid time with A Shin Hikari likely to be sent on by Yutaka Take in the same type of lung-bursting sectionals that dismantled last year’s field.
Whatever transpires tactically, Purton is confident he has the horse under him that can adapt.
“A Shin Hikari hasn’t been in great form so maybe he won’t go out as hard this time,” Purton said. “I would like him to roll along though, I’d like a similarly run race and setup as last time here. We had a hard run race in the lead-up and he won, so I’m actually hoping we get that again.”