Plenty of Europeans have tried and failed to wrest superiority off the local sprinters at Sha Tin, so what makes Blue Point so different to the long list of visitors that have left here outpaced, overmatched and with their tails between their legs?
It could just be a matter of timing, suggested Charlie Appleby, who brings Godolphin’s up-and-coming Blue Point to Sha Tin for Sunday’s Chairman’s Sprint Prize.
“I think the difference is that we are dealing with a horse that is fresh,” he said on Friday. “I think most of the Europeans that have come here previously for the Hong Kong Sprint at the end of the year are obviously in the latter stages of their season and I’ve brought a fresh, young horse with plenty of potential before the big races at home.”
Blue Point, who races under the United Arab Emirates flag courtesy of his ownership, but is ostensibly English-trained, will be the first horse from Europe or Britain to contest the Chairman’s Sprint Prize, which was opened up to outsiders for the first time in 2016.
Even if the timing looks better for Blue Point, the statistics out of the Longines Hong Kong Sprint in December still make for scary reading when it comes to British and European-trained runners.
Locally trained runners have won 13 of the last 16 Hong Kong Sprints and for the most part the Euros have ben left gasping for air.
Since the race was switched to 1,200 metres in 2006, 23 European or British horses have tried and failed, just two of them so much as placing and most finishing way back in the field at triple-figure odds.
“We know it’s a tough ask to bring a sprinter, or any horse here,” Appleby said. “But he is the best sprinter I have had my hands on and this will be interesting for the whole team. If you don’t try and challenge yourself and your team, then you are never going to get a feel for what you need to do in the future.”
Hong Kong racing fans may not have to wait long for Appleby’s next runner at Sha Tin, with consistent stayer Frontiersman set to tackle theStandard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup on May 27.
It was originally planned that Appleby’s Hawkbill would be the first overseas-trained runner to contest the Champions & Chater but his dominant victory in the Sheema Classic brought about a change of plans.
“Hawkbill’s win in the Sheema has put him on the springboard back to Europe, and Frontiersman put in a brave performance behind him two starts ago. He is a very talented horse that loves quick ground, so he should enjoy it here,” Appleby said.
Even though Appleby is managing expectations with Blue Point, he wasn’t hiding his admiration for a strapping young sprinter with obvious upside.
Blue Point has won five from 11, including two Group Three victories last season, and boasts an impressive win in the Group Two Gimcrack Stakes as a two-year-old on his resume.
His only unplaced run was a fourth behind Harry Angel on heavy ground – something the son of Shamardal is in no danger of finding on Sunday.
Blue Point’s trip is not only part reconnaissance mission for the powerful stable but aimed at helping refining the still-raw talent of the four-year-old.
“Physically he has done very well, but I’m a firm believer that the more travelling they do the stronger and more professional they become,” Appleby said.
“Obviously this is his first bit of travelling outside Dubai. We could see him grow up before our eyes in Dubai, and from what I have seen and the reports I am getting here from staff, he has come on again.”