The best thing about the presence of True Self in Sunday’s Longines Hong Kong Vase is that she brings with her a piece of racing royalty, the iconic Irish training wizard Willie Mullins.
Mullins, now 63, is a legend in the jumps racing scene in Ireland. He’s a 13-time champion trainer in the national hunt ranks and in recent years has been taking all that renowned expertise and making a substantial mark on the flat scene as well.
Just last month, Mullins trained his first winner in Australia when this mare, True Self, won the Group Two Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2,500m) at Flemington. And this week, the Irishman’s focus turns to Hong Kong’s international races.
Mullins gave local observers another look at True Self on Tuesday morning under bright skies at Sha Tin. The big-striding mare worked boldly on her own, wide out on the course proper, running 1,200m in 1:26.1, brushing home the final 400m in 22.9 seconds. Her final furlong was strong, privately timed at 11.03 seconds.
It was exactly what David Casey, the assistant trainer to Mullins, had been hoping to see. Casey has been with the mare since she was in Australia and while she didn’t get to run in the Melbourne Cup, she certainly covered the expenses with her win and a second to Prince Of Arran in the Geelong Cup.
True Self had her first morning out on the track on November 27 but this was the first day she had used the course proper (turf track).
The mare has a fascinating background, having started her career obscurely in a national hunt flat race at Warwick in late 2016, running second, beaten a head, under amateur rider James King.
When she returned to racing nine months later at Galway, she made no mistake, steaming up by eight lengths under Patrick Mullins (son of the trainer) and then scoring again the following month (September 2017) at Down Royal. She then went hurdling, winning her maiden hurdle at Thurles and a feature handicap hurdle at Punchestown in April 2018.
Late last year, the Mullins team decided to transfer her to the flat, and she won a 2,400m maiden at Cork at the first time of asking – by eight lengths. It was the start of a four-race sequence which took in Listed races at Bath, Newmarket and Gowran Park and came to an end when Klassique beat her in a Group Three at Haydock Park in June.
While Oscar, the sire of True Self, may not be familiar to Hong Kong racing fans, he’s a big name as a national hunt sire. He was runner-up in the French Derby (1997), behind a wonderful champion in Peintre Celebre, and he’s a son of 14-time champion sire Sadler’s Wells, so his success should not be a complete surprise.
In other trackwork news, fellow Vase contender Called To The Bar ran 1,200m in 1:21.7, the last 400m in 23.2, also on the turf track. Called To The Bar is a last-start winner at Longchamp, having prevailed by two lengths in the Group Three Prix Gladiateur (3,100m) on September 8.
True Self and Called To The Bar were the only visitors to use the course proper on Tuesday, with all the other visitors exercising on the all-weather track.