A day at the races – particularly feature meetings – can provoke a whole range of emotions for those involved, from jockeys, trainers, punters and administrators.
That was true again at Sha Tin on Monday, so let’s go through some of the immediate responses a few of the key players would’ve felt amid a couple of shock results.
Despondent – Classique Legend’s connections
Oh dear. *insert vomit emoji*
When Zac Purton walked out of the jockeys’ room after the races on Monday night, he was asked “how far would have Classique Legend won the Sprint Cup by?”. The answer was succinct: “it’s sickening”.
The four-time champion is in a better position to compare than anyone else. Purton said Classique Legend had given him “a special feel” in his latest barrier trial and at trackwork while he’s also ridden Amazing Star seven times (for four wins).
The most recent of those occasions was the Group One Hong Kong Sprint, where Ting’s galloper finished ninth, beaten five lengths.
It’s not an exaggeration to suggest an 85 per cent fit Classique Legend would have won that by three or four lengths hard-held.
So for Caspar Fownes, owner Boniface Ho Ka-kui and Purton, it was an absolutely brutal result. You have to feel shattered for them – and Hong Kong racing more broadly. What could have/should have been. It can be a fickle game.
Joy – Vagner Borges
On the other side of the coin, you have to feel happy for Borges, who enjoyed the biggest payday of his life when Amazing Star crossed the line in front at $179.
The unassuming Brazilian has quietly gone about his business since joining the Hong Kong ranks full-time 12 months ago, racking up 35 winners from 580 rides. He’s no superstar, but he’s a lightweight jockey who does his job and fits into the Hong Kong ecosystem.
Borges pocketed HK$256,500 for the win, which is multitudes more than any previous collect from a day’s work in his homeland, where his is a four-time champion jockey. Good on him.
Shock – Jimmy Ting Koon-ho
Amazing Star’s trainer still couldn’t comprehend what had happened 10 minutes after the race – but in fairness to him, just about everyone who watched the Sprint Cup was in the same boat.
Excited – Japan’s Champions Day raiders
Nothing they saw on Monday would provide them with a moment’s worry about their prospects of Group One glory on April 25.
Some experts were pondering (tongue-in-cheek) if the Jockey Club should just send Danon Smash the cheque for winning the Chairman’s Sprint Prize now.
Of course, Hong Kong’s best horse Golden Sixty didn’t race and he will start a deserved odds-on favourite in the Champions Mile, but beyond him, there is a distinct lack of depth among the elite ranks.
No matter which race they contest, the visitors have to feel good about their chances of picking up a nice cheque.
Worried – Jockey Club officials
See above. They don’t want to have the Japanese come in and run riot at Sha Tin without the home team giving much of a yelp.
It’s not looking promising, but they still have Golden Sixty on their side.
Revitalised – Neil Callan
The win of Mighty Giant in the Group Two Chairman’s Trophy was just the tonic for Neil Callan after a tough month.
The Irishman will fight for his Hong Kong career when he fronts the Jockey Club licensing committee on Wednesday, the result of a petulant display during a stewards’ inquiry on February 3.
Monday’s result can only help him in his bid to stay for the remainder of the season, giving him his first Group win since Beauty Only captured the same race three years ago.
Normally these “show cause” hearings are uphill battles for the defendants, but speaking to people around the traps, there is a feeling that Callan at least has a 50-50 chance.
He’s sent a letter of apology, his attitude has improved, he is not an integrity risk and can appeal on compassionate grounds to let his kids finish their school years before signing off in July.
Given he’s been a good soldier for Hong Kong racing for the better part of a decade and his offence is nowhere near as serious as those who have recently been in this position, that would seem to be a fair outcome.
Resigned – Waikuku’s connections
The manner in which Waikuku dropped out is cause for concern.
While he pulled up with blood in his trachea, it is clear something serious went amiss – when Joao Moreira went to push the button at the top of the straight, nothing was there and they’d only been dawdling up to that point.
For some reason, John Size’s two-time Group One winner doesn’t fire in April. He’s zip from five at this time of the year – now beaten as an odds-on favourite in the Chairman’s Trophy two years in a row.
Size is not one to keep pushing when his horses have had enough and that might be the case for Waikuku.
Encouraged – Glorious Dragon’s team
Great run by the talented grey, who looks to have gone to another level this season.
Can he beat the Japanese in the QE II Cup? Probably not, but he absolutely deserves a crack at it.
Not much went right for him in the 2,000m Class One and he won anyway carrying the top weight. Well done for Francis Lui Kin-wai and Matthew Poon Ming-fai.
Discouraged – Hong Kong’s young sprinters
Another reminder that Group races at set weights are a different beast to Class One/Group Three handicaps.
Wellington/Sky Field/Winning Dreamer have all done terrific jobs climbing up the ratings this season but they weren’t up to it on Monday.
Time is on their side but they’ll need to step up again to be competitive at the top level.