A strong local connection swung the argument for a HK$16 million Champions Mile start for both of the visitors in Sunday’s Group One at Sha Tin but trainer Ed Walker said it also presented as the right race at the right time for Stormy Antarctic.
A self-confessed fan of travelling his horses and of Hong Kong, the young English trainer said that options were limited for the Siu Pak-kwan-owned four-year-old with Royal Ascot aspirations.
“Obviously, when I brought it up with Mr Siu, it was a hugely attractive option for him to have a runner here but we also had a lack of options in Europe this early in the season,” said Walker.
“The Lockinge Stakes was our only real Group One option at home before Ascot so we thought this race was a good idea from all angles. This horse has always travelled well – on a boat or a train to France anyway, where he’s been several times – so I thought he’d handle it.
“I’ve been coming to Hong Kong the past six or seven years and I love it out here, I love travelling my horses and when we got the invitation it was a no-brainer.”
Walker saw Stormy Antarctic for the first time here on Thursday morning and liked what he saw.
“He looks fabulous, he quickly picked up the weight he lost on the flight and the staff here are really happy with him,” he said. “He’s already fit so there’s no need to do much with him here. Really the job is only maintaining his well-being and making sure he doesn’t get too fresh because he’s a fresh, playful sort of horse anyway.”
Walker warned punters not to place too much weight on Stormy Antarctic having much of his better form on soft going.
“He’s got better form on soft ground, arguably, and he’s got more form on it but that’s by default rather than design,” he said. “I think he copes very well with soft ground, better than most, but I don’t think fast ground is a hindrance. It wasn’t documented but the ground was very quick when he ran second at Chantilly in the Prix Jean Prat last July, so I’m not concerned.”
The 33-year-old tasted overseas Group Three success with Ruscello during Melbourne Cup week 2013, piquing a taste for travelling horses which was nurtured during his time under Luca Cumani, and Walker has often been mentioned in discussions about potential expatriate trainers for Hong Kong.
“I think my CV isn’t strong enough yet to be considered but, if the opportunity ever arose, it’s a decision I would take very seriously,” Walker said. “I love it out here and I train for quite a few Hong Kong owners, including Mr Siu, who has a handful of horses with me. We try to qualify horses for them to bring here, it works well and I enjoy working for them. We’ll see what the future holds.”