Trainer Tony Millard was overseas last month when he notched up his 600th winner so he could have been excused for watching the milestone from a resort pool somewhere, but the South African was busy looking for his next star.
The 57-year-old was watching one of his promising horses trial ahead of a three-year-old Derby in South Africa and he hopes to bring it to Hong Kong for next season’s version.
“I have got a lot of horses in South Africa, I actually went to watch one of my Derby horses trial. He’s going for the Derby on Met Day (on January 26) and I went to watch him grass trial,” he said.
“He is owned by a Hong Kong guy and if he can come through then he will come out here for the Derby.
“I have a lot of those kind of horses there that we are trying to nurture and bring through, a really super bunch of young horses we are hoping can be another Singapore Sling or Northern Superstar. It’s been good there because you are buying them at a quarter of the price to elsewhere.”
Northern Superstar has been the latest example of Millard’s shrewd importing, with the South African Group One winner on the verge of hitting his straps in Hong Kong.
The five-year-old will line up in Wednesday’s Group Three January Cup (1,800m) at Happy Valley after running strongly in the Group One Hong Kong Cup (2,000m) at the Hong Kong International Races last month.
Impressed by the run, Millard is convinced his horse can be a middle-distance contender in Hong Kong going forward.
“He’s very versatile, anywhere between a mile and 2,000m he will be competitive, it just depends how his form is, but I am very happy with him,” he said.
“He hasn’t been to the Valley before so that could be an issue, but I don’t think it should be because he is quite a sensible horse who has been around for a bit now. He did everything right and he picked up his game, he is a very nice horse.”
Jockey Karis Teetan will retain the ride and the horse will jump from barrier six. After starting the season with 14 winners in two months, Millard endured a lean month prior to the New Year, waiting 35 days between wins 599 and 600.
However, the trainer said he was happy to back off his horses while he was overseas in an attempt to ensure their longevity over an 88-meeting season.
“I was away, we ran nine horses and we had three seconds, a winner and a fourth so it wasn’t too bad,” he said.
“I didn’t run a lot of my horses because my owners went away. You have got to have the programme when the guys are going away.
“You have also got to take into account that you can’t kill the horses for the whole year, somewhere along the line you have got to give them a bit of a break.
“It was an ideal time to back off them a little bit because we still have another seven months to go and if you hammer them all the time, you’re not going to end up with anything. I haven’t got a lot of horses so I have to look after the ones I’ve got.”
Despite boasting strong Group One form, Northern Superstar will be tested by proven gallopers such as Time Warp, Southern Legend and last year’s winner, Eagle Way, on Wednesday night.
After producing a devastating 2,000m track record at Sha Tin in November, trainer John Moore is convinced Eagle Way has improved since he won the race last year.
“He won’t it last year with [Zac]Purton, he’s going fine. This season he is a different horse,” he said.