There has been a lot of discussion since the Post revealed Classique Legend had bled after trackwork and was returning to Australia, so let’s try to address the key questions.
Why did he come to Hong Kong in the first place?
This has been the most common assessment on social media – “he never should have left” – and is easy to say now, but misses the point.
If owner Boniface Ho Ka-kui, who lives in Hong Kong, wants to watch his horse strut his stuff in person and launch raids on the biggest sprint races around the planet, there is no better place to do it from.
It’s one easy flight from all the main jurisdictions and given the gulf in the Hong Kong sprinting ranks at the moment, at anywhere near his best Classique Legend would’ve been absolutely dominant.
Ho buys a lot of horses – he is terrific for the industry – but part of his model is to cherry-pick his best horses from Australia and bring them to Hong Kong.
The perfect example is Southern Legend, who raced well for Les Bridge in Sydney before moving to Sha Tin and becoming a Group One winner, claiming two Kranji Miles in Singapore while running fifth in the Dubai Turf in Dubai behind Almond Eye under the care of Caspar Fownes.
Replicating that – with a more talented horse – was the dream and it was absolutely worth trying.
So why didn’t it work?
A combination of bad luck and bad timing.
His flight was delayed twice – most notably after one of the other horses in the shipment returned a testing irregularity – with Ho opting the pull the plug on the trip and remain in Australia for another tilt at the Everest in October.
That decision paid huge dividends when Classique Legend collected the first prize of A$6.2 million (HK$36.38 million), but the trade-off is it impacted his ability to transition to his new home. After a solid stint in quarantine – without any serious work – he was a shell of himself when he arrived.
Moving to Hong Kong on a permanent basis is very different to the hit-and-run mission most visitors make for the international races – it is a far more exhaustive process.
Hong Kong is the toughest jurisdiction in the world for horses to adjust to because of the combination of unique living/training conditions, the often uncomfortable weather and the high level of competition.
Classique Legend wasn’t the first – and he won’t be the last – to take time to acclimatise to the place.
Is there anything Fownes could have done differently?
The three-time champion left no stone unturned in trying to get the best out of the horse.
Perhaps you could quibble over the decision to run him in December’s Hong Kong Sprint but the pressure to be there on the day – from various directions – was enormous. Hindsight is always 20-20.
Since then, Fownes has done everything in his power to get the five-year-old back to his best – using all the tools at his disposal while sending him for a lengthy stint at the Jockey Club’s state-of-the-art facilities in Conghua. There were a lot of challenges to overcome.
It all looked to be coming together when he crushed his rivals – which included Group One winners Golden Sixty and Southern Legend – in a barrier trial last week. He looked like his old self and everyone felt the hard work was going to pay off. We know what happened next.
It would be fair to say that Fownes, in the four and a half months Classique Legend has been in Hong Kong, has spent more time, effort and mental and emotional energy on him than any other horse he has been involved with. The trainer is not to blame.
Two of Classique Legend’s siblings – Aethero and Puppet Master – have also bled, is that a coincidence?
Unfortunately, the best horses are more likely to get injured because they try harder than the others – they push themselves to the limit. That’s racing.
Could anything have changed this outcome?
The sliding doors moment came 12 months ago.
If Classique Legend had made it to Hong Kong the first time around, he would’ve been given plenty of time to adjust to his new home, run in the Class One Chief Executive’s Cup on the first weekend in September before launching an attack on the Everest.
This morning's trial in full... 👇— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) March 23, 2021
Classique Legend (@zpurton) leads home the field, while Southern Legend (@KarisTeetan) & Golden Sixty (@Vincenthocy) cross the line with ease. 🔥 #HKracing pic.twitter.com/lgwNuGrtXN
He wouldn’t have had to go through such an arduous quarantine regime – in between target races – where he lost condition and didn’t have all the normal creature comforts he would’ve been afforded, ensuring he arrived in less than ideal shape. You would love to see how that alternative scenario played out.
It is easier for younger horses to adapt to new conditions – that is one of the reasons the Jockey Club (expect for specific circumstances) only allows horses to be imported before they turn five.
Why is he going back to Australia now?
With a three-month ban ruling him out of any races in Hong Kong for the rest of the season, it was really the only option if Ho wanted Classique Legend to defend his Everest title.
Given that was always a priority, it makes complete sense to start the process now. He will be back at Bridge’s property in June, giving him four months to prepare for the race.
Will he ever race in Hong Kong again?
The only option would be a hit-and-run mission for the Hong Kong Sprint and/or the Chairman’s Sprint Prize.
Ho would love nothing more than to win a Group One at Sha Tin with the grey, so you wouldn’t rule it out, but he will never be based here full-time again.
What does it mean for the Hong Kong sprinting ranks?
Losing Classique Legend is big blow, particularly coming on the back of John Size’s decision to put Hot King Prawn away for the rest of the season.
The ranks are wide open – a perfect opportunity for the next generation to come through and make their mark.
Maybe Wellington will put his hand up in the Sprint Cup on Monday or perhaps a horse like Courier Wonder makes the leap in the not-too-distant future.
Hong Kong’s search for a world-class sprinter goes on and we’re left to wonder what could’ve been with Classique Legend.