Dropping 44 pounds in a month would probably be a concern for most athletes, but it had no discernible impact on the Chris So Wai-yin-trained Classic Unicorn at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The talented youngster was a dominant winner on debut in June but alarm bells were going off for punters when they saw such a big weight drop ahead of his second career start.
Often that means an illness or the horse is off its food, but the trainer couldn’t find an issue.
There certainly weren’t any problems on the track with Classic Unicorn scorching the 1,000m straight in a blistering 55.09 seconds, just .39 outside Sacred Kingdom’s track record from 2007.
“He’s a nice horse,” an understated So said. “There was a bit of concern in the two days leading up to the race, many people called me about his weight. He had lost  pounds. I took blood tests and everything was normal, he ate well.
“But weight is no standard, particularly going from your first start to your second start. He’s only a baby and maybe he’s getting fit. I still thought he would run well.”
Derek Leung Ka-chun went forward on the three-year-old, beating out noted speedster Multimillion for the front, before putting paid to his rivals and holding off the challenge of Caspar Fownes’ Seven Heavens.
“I told Derek just to relax. He didn’t have to lead, but he showed his speed. I hope next season he will be even better,” So said.
“I think he will get over 1,200m, maybe even 1,400m, in the future, but not right now. He’s still learning – he’s still not concentrating. We just need to give him some time.”
So, who also tasted success with Lotus Breeze (Chad Schofield) earlier in the day, will give Classic Unicorn some time off, potentially even spelling him in Conghua.
“I need to think about it. For me, Conghua is a lot better for horses who are resting. But we will see,” he said.
Owners spend HK$48.8 million at HKIS
Jockey Club owners splashed HK$48.8 million on the next wave of horses at the July edition of the Hong Kong International Sale on Friday night.
The top lot – a son of Kodiac who is a half-brother to United States Group Two winner Ramazutti – went for HK$4.8 million to Johnson Chen, the man best known for his association with 2015-16 Hong Kong Horse of the Year Werther.
The second-highest mark was HK$4.5 million for a Frankel gelding bought by Vincent To Wai-keung.
The average price of the 20 lots was HK$2.44 million, a big increase on the corresponding sale last year when it was HK$1.73 million (from 14 lots).
“The sale was well-supported by owners and I think they got good value, which is important as our sales are all about providing opportunities for our owners,” Jockey Club executive director of racing Andrew Harding said.
“Overall, the results met our expectations: the average of HK$2.44 million is healthy and in the current market it was a very good result.”
Riders to have bigger presence in Conghua
Punters can expect to see more big-name jockeys riding horses in Conghua next season.
Jockeys were this week instructed by Jockey Club officials they are to participate in more barrier trials at the HK$3.7 billion training facility in mainland China. Most jockeys only made the eight-hour return trip two or three times this season.
Some of the middle tier riders, in particular, have been reluctant to make the trek across the border because they believed they would do the work on horses in the trials and then would not get the opportunity to ride in a race due to trainers having allegiances with other jockeys.
With trials in Conghua taking place once a month, there are also concerns jockeys could miss final trackwork gallops for horses that they are riding on the weekend at Sha Tin.
While they will not be all required to ride in every barrier trial – it is expected a group of around five will make themselves available each time -– including jockeys on short-term riding stints.
To help ease the burden, the Jockey Club has promised the trip will be made in private cars as opposed to a bus, which can potentially slice an hour or so off the travel time.
Korea off the agenda for Elusive State
Tony Millard will not take his dirt specialist Elusive State to Korea in September.
The South African confirmed his much-improved galloper will run in the final race meeting of the season before reassessing his options available next season.
The Korea Cup (1,800m), worth HK$6.6 million, loomed as an option but Hong Kong’s chances for representation at the day now rests with Me Tsui Yu-sak’s Ugly Warrior who could run in the Korea Sprint (1,200m).
The four-year-old won well in Class Two last month and would arguably take better form into the race than Tsui’s former galloper Fight Hero, who impressed last year when he ran a gallant second despite being wide for most of the trip.
Ho the safest stable at Sha Tin
It is awards season in Hong Kong and possibly the strangest one was handed out at Sha Tin on Sunday with Peter Ho Leung claiming the gong for “Safest and Best Housekeeping Stable Award”.
It is the third time the trainer has collected the award in its 17-year history – he did it last year as well as in the 2013-14 season.
The aim of the award is to raise staff awareness of occupational safety and promote the importance of having a safe and healthy working environment in the stables.
The “safety committee judging panel”, comprised of representatives from various departments within the club, conducted stable inspections to assess the standards of hygiene and cleanliness in the workplace.
The results of these inspections were then combined with accident ratios to derive overall scores.
Previous winners of the award include Manfred Man Ka-leung (2016-17), Derek Cruz (2015-16) and Tony Cruz (2014-15).