Handling the deep sand of Seoul is the key to Ugly Warrior’s chances in next month’s Korea Sprint after a flawless preparation for his international assault.
Me Tsui Yu-sak’s five-year-old had his final major hit-out at Sha Tin on Wednesday morning, winning a barrier trial in comfortable fashion, before jumping on a plane next week.
The 1,200m Group Three has long been on the agenda for the dirt specialist and he showed he is right on track for it, controlling the trial from the front before cruising to the line with plenty in hand under the guidance of Ben So Tik-hung.
“He looked good in that trial and now he’s ready for the race,” Tsui said of the gelding, who is undefeated in two previous first-up runs.
“He’s only a skinny horse – he’s not strong – so he doesn’t need another. At this stage, everything has gone to plan and I’m very happy with him.”
Ugly Warrior, who has built a strong record of six wins and two placings from nine starts on Sha Tin’s all-weather track, will be joined in Seoul by another dirt horse in Frankie Lor Fu-chuen’s Glorious Artist, who will contest the Group Three Korea Cup (1,800m). They will both be ridden by Vincent Ho Chak-yiu.
The Hong Kong horses have a leg up this year after the Korea Racing Authority announced no Japanese horses have been invited because of political tensions between the two countries.
Given the recent dominance of Japan – it has won the two HK$6.53 million features in each of the past two seasons – it provides a better opportunity for Ugly Warrior and Glorious Artist to snatch the bulk of prize money on offer from the locals.
The key will be adapting to the soft sand track, which is nothing like what they have experienced in Hong Kong.
“I’ve told Ugly Warrior’s owner that the most important thing is handling the track,” Tsui said. “It’s 50-50 whether they can – it’s not dirt, it’s a deep sand track.”
Hong Kong won the first renewal of the Korea Sprint with Tony Millard’s Super Jockey in 2016, before Circuit Land (Cup) and Lucky Year (Sprint) failed to fire in 2017.
Last year, the Tsui-trained Fight Hero was a gallant second in the Sprint, but he has a different style of racing compared to his former stablemate.
“Fight Hero was always happy to come from behind – he didn’t mind the kickback – but this one needs to get a better position,” Tsui said.
“But that should help his chances too because the track suits horses who go forward.
“He can’t be behind horses though – he can travel two or three-deep and then kick the last 300m. If he’s inside, he doesn’t have the same turn of foot.”