Leading Japanese trainer Yasutoshi Ikee will be doing a rain dance ahead of Sunday’s Group One Longines Hong Kong Mile because he thinks a softer track will suit his stable star Persian Knight.
The two-time Japan Racing Association champion trainer is delighted with how the horse is ticking along ahead of the big day.
“It was absolutely fabulous work on Thursday, I was very happy with it,” Ikee said through an interpreter.
“He raced in the Mile Championship three weeks ago [finishing second] and he’s come out of the race in good condition. The track is a bit hard though, I’m praying for more rain.”
This is the fifth year in a row Ikee has brought a horse to Sha Tin for the Hong Kong International Races and he has come away with fourths twice – once with World Ace in the 2014 Mile and again with Lovely Day in the 2016 Cup.
On paper, the barrier draw didn’t go in Persian Knight’s favour – he landed gate 14 – but Ikee said it was much better than the alternative.
“At the draw we were down to the last two horses – it was my horse and John Size’s horse and there was one and 14 left and luckily, John pulled out number one,” he said. “I’m glad we weren’t stuck on the inside.”
In the early overseas fixed-odds markets, Persian Knight is an $8.50 second favourite behind odds-on hope Beauty Generation.
But while the visiting trainer has plenty of respect for the local hero, he holds out hope that he has peaked too early.
“I think he’s a really impressive horse and he’ll definitely be tough to beat,” Ikee said. “Last time he ran so strongly and set a record, I think there is a chance he might not be at his best and hopefully this is our chance. I’m here representing Japan, I want to win.”
Elsworth ‘might as well have stayed home’
The line of the morning came from veteran British trainer David Elsworth about what champion jockey Ryan Moore thinks of Sir Dancealot’s chances in the Hong Kong Sprint.
“I was talking to Ryan Moore [on Thursday] and he said [the Hong Kong sprinters] are very good, I might as well have stayed home,” Elsworth said.
“Ryan is a very good friend of mine, he’s very familiar with the form and the ability of these southern hemisphere horses so I respect his judgment but I’m just hoping he’s wrong.”
The 80-year-old Elsworth, who also trained and owned popular sprinter Cape Of Good Hope before he was sold to Hong Kong, first made the pilgrimage to Sha Tin in 1990 with Landyap, while he finished third with Lear Spear in the 1999 Cup.
“I was a lot sounder then,” Elsworth quipped. “But I’ve always enjoyed the trip to Hong Kong, they make us very welcome – it’s a great outing.”
Sir Dancealot comes into the race after finishing fifth in the Group One British Champion Sprint Stakes with Gerald Mosse taking the ride on Sunday from barrier five.
“He travelled exceptionally well – it is always a concern when you travel a horse over extreme distances. He’s actually put on a little bit of weight,” the trainer said.
“Seven furlongs [1,400m] has certainly been his most successful trip, but I think the Mile is probably a stronger race than the sprint and he has very good form over six furlongs [1,200m] – he wasn’t beaten far in the July Cup.
“I’m hoping that they go very hard and fast and in the second half of the race he can run on – at least that’s the theory.”
Hong Kong dream a reality for Master’s owners
Competing at HKIR is a bucket-list item for many and it is something One Master’s American owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson will do on Sunday when their filly races in the Mile.
This will be the fifth start in a row the four-year-old has run in a different country – starting with Britain, Ireland, France, USA and finishing in Hong Kong.
She won the Group One Prix de la Foret at Longchamp in October before finishing an unlucky fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, prompting them to push on to Sha Tin.
“When I had this race under consideration for her I discussed plans with her owners, the Jacksons, who live in Pennsylvania in the USA, and they were keen to give it a go,” trainer William Haggas said.
“They are both in their eighties, and got into Hong Kong [on Thursday] night, which is great. I’d love her to stay in training and get them over to Royal Ascot next year. Why not? Her last two runs have been her best.
“To me she looks better in her coat than she did at the Breeders’ Cup. She likes to travel and she’s fit and well.”
Vale Hui Sai-fun
The most successful owner in Hong Kong racing history Hui Sai-fun died during the week at the age of 97.
Hui is the only Hong Kong owner to win 100 races, a feat he achieved in January when Contribution prevailed at Happy Valley.
The names of his horses will be familiar to long-time watchers of racing in this region as they all follow a familiar theme – his first winner (in 1957) was called Temptation, while his last winner was Calculation in October.
Hui was no stranger to success at HKIR either, with Motivation taking out the Cup in 1993 while Inspiration collected the Sprint in 2008.
It would be a fitting tribute if Stimulation, who sports his red, blue and white striped silks, was able to salute in the Class Two Maurice Handicap on Sunday.