The thawing of strict quarantine restrictions between Australia and Hong Kong looks set to pay immediate dividends for FWD Champions Day next month.
A range of Australian horses have the meeting on their radar with three Group Ones on the day.
Multiple Group One winner Santa Ana Lane headlines the list of possibles with connections exploring the option of travelling to Hong Kong for the HK$16 million Group One Chairman’s Sprint Prize before going to Royal Ascot.
Assistant trainer Sam Freedman confirmed the race was a possibility, but said the team would focus on a preparation in Australia first.
“It is certainly on our radar but there is plenty of water to go under the bridge for the rest of his prep in Australia,” he said.
Trainer Lloyd Kennewell has also earmarked the race for his dual Group One winner Viddora providing she comes out of his run in the Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai in good order.
“If everything goes to plan [in Dubai] then she’s got a trip to Hong Kong and who knows after that, she could finish her racing career overseas,” he told Racing.com. “She’s a great traveller, she’s in really good order.”
Is he the best sprinter in the land?— Racing.com (@Racing) March 8, 2019
Santa Ana Lane brought up his fourth Group 1 with a barnstorming finish in the VRC Sprint Classic. We can't wait to see him back in action in the Newmarket... pic.twitter.com/Kt7eAZE4vL
It can also be revealed the Kris Lees-trained galloper Brave Smash is set to target the race after also tackling the Al Quoz Sprint.
Former Hong Kong trainer David Hayes is also understood to be considering running his up-and-coming three-year-old Fundamentalist against Hong Kong champion Beauty Generation in the HK$18 million Champions Mile.
The promising filly has been beaten by a nose two weeks running in Group One events in Sydney under former Hong Kong jockey Sam Clipperton and is owned by the Hong Kong-owned Aquis Farm.
Clipperton can’t take a trick
Speaking of Clipperton, the 25-year-old can lay claim to being one of the unluckiest jockeys around.
The Australian has ridden seven Group One seconds in the space of 14 months, including four at Sha Tin on D B Pin, Mr Stunning and Western Express (twice).
He looked all but certain to break through for a Group One win on Saturday after bursting clear in the Randwick Guineas, but was hunted down in the shadows of the post by superstar three-year-old The Autumn Sun.
The star colt headlined a huge day in Australia for Hong Kong-owned horses.
Fellow Group One winners Harlem (Australian Cup) and Sunlight (Newmarket Handicap) both have Hong Kong connections while Saturday’s Group One Canterbury Stakes winner Trapeze Artist is owned by Bert Vieira, who spent a large part of his life in the region.
Trainer Gerald Ryan had previously expressed interest in racing the multimillion dollar colt in Hong Kong but the opportunity looks to have passed him by with a lucrative stud career beckoning.
Meanwhile, former Hong Kong galloper Redkirk Warrior was retired on Saturday after finishing back in the field in the Newmarket, a race he won in 2017 and 2018.
Third time lucky for So
Tianchi Monster was one of the last horses to stake his claim for a spot in next weekend’s BMW Hong Kong Derby and trainer Chris So Wai-yin had to settle for his third choice to ride the progressive four-year-old.
However, he is certainly not complaining after securing the services of star Australian jockey Craig Williams, who will ride at Sha Tin for the first time since January last year.
“Actually, I wanted to ask Oisin [Murphy] first, he wanted to ride but his agent had already promised Gold Chest,” So said. “I asked Frankie [Dettori] but he said he could not because he has a contract in Dubai.”
Williams and Murphy are among five international jockeys who will jet in for the race, along with Hugh Bowman (Furore), Ryan Moore (Enrichment) and James McDonald (Ho Ho Khan).
Joao Moreira is riding favourite Waikuku, Zac Purton is aboard Dark Dream and the other Hong Kong-based jockeys to have a ride are Derek Leung Ka-chun (Mission Tycoon), Vincent Ho Chak-yiu (Ka Ying Star), Silvestre de Sousa (Harmony Victory), Chad Schofield (Red Warrior), Karis Teetan (Helene Leadingstar), Umberto Rispoli (Mr So And So) and Neil Callan (Sunny Speed).
Rising stars bound for Hong Kong
While millions of dollars worth of bloodstock will fight it out for the BMW Hong Kong Derby on Sunday, preparations are already being put in place for the 2020 edition.
Irish galloper Playa del Puente is expected to make Sha Tin home after winning three from four starts in Europe.
“The owner is looking forward to getting him to Hong Kong and the plan is to ship there in early May,” trainer Mick Halford told the press in Ireland.
“They will take their time with him and I’d imagine they want him for the Hong Kong Derby. He’s a real smart horse.
“He’s a bit fresh in himself and raced a bit keen early on – he’s on the improve the whole time and we are very grateful to have kept him. He’s still quite light and there is plenty to come from him. He has a big heart and a big engine.”
Hong Kong trainer Caspar Fownes is also set to get his hands on boom Australian sprinter Classique Legend.
The Les Bridge-trained three-year-old will make the trip from Australia, likely once he has won one more race after achieving a two from two record so far.
Classique Legend is owned by prominent Hong Kong owner Boniface Ho, who already has Southern Legend with Fownes.
While Ho’s bloodstock agent and racing manager Carmel Size has expressed her desire to keep the horse in Australia for as long as possible, it is understood the talented sprinter will be in Hong Kong soon.
Straight track the tonic for Multimillion
Tony Cruz said his speedy four-year-old Multimillion will stick to straight track racing for now after saluting in the Class Three Hyacinth Handicap.
The lightly raced galloper has two wins over the 1,000m trip and is unlikely to venture over more ground after running off the track in his previous start under the recently retired Douglas Whyte.
“I would say we will just stick to the straight 1,000m for now,” Cruz said. “We had the full blinkers on him today and I think it proved to be the difference.”
Despite drawing barrier five, jockey Karis Teetan was able to steer Multimillion straight to the outside fence and lead all the way in the Class Three contest.