The Japanese are set to raid Champions Day next month with the Jockey Club granted approval to operate another “racing bubble” which will see overseas participants able to travel to Hong Kong freely without completing mandatory hotel quarantine.
Those in the bubble will be allowed to travel in separate groups to Sha Tin to work their horses, however they will be required to spend any remaining time in their hotel rooms.
With travel from England and Ireland still banned by the Hong Kong government, the bubble will be restricted to countries such as Japan and Australia, paving the way for a repeat of their domination at December’s Hong Kong International Races.
“We will be using the policies and procedures that we used successfully for the Hong Kong International Races,” Jockey Club director of racing business and operations Bill Nader told the Post.
“However the reach and depth of horses from different parts of the world might be limited this time. We would not really entertain horses from Ireland or Great Britain because of the situation over there.”
While the option is there, Jockey Club officials are not expecting bumper nominations from Down Under with the event clashing with The Championships in Sydney while restrictive quarantine requirements also remain in place for those returning to Australia.
They are however expecting a strong presence from Japan for all three Group One races – the Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1,200m), the Champions Mile and the QE II Cup (2,000m).
“There will be interest from Japan, the entries close on March 15,” Nader said. “The races are big, it is a blockbuster day and the prize money is intact.”
The QE II Cup is worth HK$25 million while the Champions Mile and Chairman’s Sprint Prize are worth HK$20 million and HK$18 million, respectively.
Japanese Fillies Triple Crown winner Daring Tact has been touted as a likely QE II Cup contender should she come through her first-up assignment in the Group Two Kinko Sho (2,000m) at home next weekend.
It would set her on a collision course with Hong Kong superstar Golden Sixty, with trainer Francis Lui Kin-wai indicating he intends to keep racing the top-rated galloper at 2,000m.
After winning the Hong Kong Sprint and Cup in December, Nader said Japanese connections were well versed in how the travel bubble works and expected them to participate again.
“We will have to be more strategic in terms of understanding the government policy and play within those guidelines. That would bring our focus more towards Japan,” he said. “If something else was willing to come from another country – Australia would be a good case in point – we can look at it. Timing wise, with The Championships in Sydney it wouldn’t be the easiest.”
Restrictions mean European jockeys are all but ruled out of the event, however Nader said he expected Japanese jockeys to make the trip.
“It is an easy trip for Japan, they have seen how well the bubble worked in December because they have been through it so that helps,” he said.
With US$8.5 million (HK$65 million) cut from Dubai’s super-rich World Cup night later this month, Nader said the increased bounty of HK$63 million could prove to be a strong lure for Hong Kong in April.
“The prize money in Dubai has been reduced for World Cup night, it is still significant but ours is very attractive no matter how you look at it,” he said.
Purton gives Hayes a helping hand
David Hayes thought So We Joy was on its way to being one of the hard-luck stories of 2021 before champion jockey Zac Purton pulled him out of the fire.
With the five-year-old all strung up with nowhere to go at the top of the straight, Purton faced an almighty task to guide the difficult galloper to victory in the Class Four Marigold Handicap (1,400m), but wove some magic to hunt down his rivals in the shadows of the post.
Feeling the pressure going into the race, Hayes said he had all but resigned to another unlucky defeat, before the change in fortunes.
“I think the tongue tie and the side winker off, along with Zac Purton on, made all the difference,” he said. “That was an incredible ride, if you look at the head on [footage] and how he got through, I really thought it was going to be a tragedy but he turned it into a good story.”
No Moore for training duo
The Australian training partnership of John and Gary Moore has gone up in smoke just months after its establishment.
John – who is keen to continue training after his illustrious Hong Kong career ended at the end of last season – is reported to have approached Racing New South Wales recently about taking out his own licence.
It has been slow going for the brothers since combining at the back end of last year with their last 50 runners returning two winners.
“It is an amicable split between brother John and I,” Gary told The Daily Telegraph on the weekend.
John still boasts significant support from Hong Kong-based owners and has spoken of his desire to train out of the Gold Coast in Queensland.
Gary is expected to continue to operate his business separately out of Rosehill where he is hoping to secure more boxes.
Callan bounces back
After a tumultuous week which saw his Hong Kong riding career put on notice, Neil Callan bounced back with a winner at Sha Tin.
The Irishman returned from his three-meeting suspension on Sunday and saluted in his first ride back, lifting Lucky Ruby home for trainer Manfred Man Ka-leung.
It was a wire-to-wire effort from Callan, with the four-year-old relishing the switch to the dirt surface, which favoured on-speed runners.
Callan is awaiting a show cause hearing which will determine his Hong Kong future after officials were left unimpressed by his conduct during a stewards’ inquiry in February.