On a day when Hong Kong racing was reminded exactly what it’s like to have its jaw dropped by the awe-inspiring Golden Sixty, it also received the most telling indication yet that the gap to the rest of the horse population could well be widening.
The Group Two Jockey Club Cup (2,000m) was a joke, run at a crawl early with a final time more than a second outside Class Five standard, and it was impossible to walk away feeling anything but dispirited after Reliable Team saluted at $17.
With as many as 20 overseas raiders expected to be confirmed for next month’s Hong Kong International Races when the final fields are announced on Wednesday, and the majority of those likely to be entered in the Hong Kong Cup (2,000m) and Hong Kong Vase (2,400m), the chance of carnage in those races looks high.
Last year the first four horses across the line in the Cup were internationals – a result repeated in April’s QE II Cup – and Aidan O’Brien’s Mogul trotted up in the Vase 12 months ago.
In 27 runnings of the Vase it’s only stayed in Hong Kong three times, while the Cup – the jurisdiction’s richest race at HK$30 million – has been claimed by Japan four times in the past six years.
To see the main lead-up for both of these races won by the honest but far from brilliant Reliable Team hardly inspires confidence that these trends will be bucked on December 12.
But where there is life, there is hope and one assumes some local horses will have to run in the Cup and Vase come international day, and an influx of stars from abroad could even be of some assistance.
While a lack of pace actually helped add to Golden Sixty’s legend in the Jockey Club Mile, it scuppered the hopes of the main chances in the Jockey Club Cup.
The invading brigade should ensure a more honest tempo in both distance races come international day, something the likes of Glorious Dragon, Panfield, Russian Emperor and Columbus County will welcome.
Karis Teetan partnered May’s Group One Champions & Chater Cup winner Panfield into last place on Sunday but remains confident he is one horse who can fly the flag for the locals, whether he goes to the Cup or the Vase.
“It’s going to be a different race on international day, they will go faster and I can nurse him. He is the kind of horse who needs a few in front of him so he can switch off and then he can come,” Teetan said of Panfield, who found himself outside the lead early before slotting into the one-one and then fading late.
“It’s not easy when you’re in these big races and you have these world-class horses underneath you but there’s not any horses that bring speed on, so it gets very tricky sometimes.”
That being said, pace is one thing, class is another entirely and the reality remains that if Hong Kong was to split the features two-two with the raiders that would be a good result and Golden Sixty showed on the weekend that he’s more than ready to do his bit in the Hong Kong Mile.
The jury is still out on the sprinting brigade but there is enough to like about a local army that looks set to tackle at least three speedsters from the Land of the Rising Sun, with reports out of Japan suggesting Pixie Knight, Danon Smash and Resistencia will make the trip.
Lucky Patch could hardly have done any more, with Sunday’s win in the Jockey Club Sprint his second Group Two victory on the bounce, while the likes of Wellington, Hot King Prawn and Courier Wonder all look capable of improvement.
But it’s unlikely it was a horse providing the biggest pointer to the future out of this race, with Jerry Chau Chun-lok producing a winning ride from the outside alley aboard Lucky Patch that belied his years.
Chau snared his first Group win at the age of 21 and provided further evidence that he’s a star in the making on what was a big day for home-grown jockeys and trainers.
Trainers Francis Lui Kin-wai (Lucky Patch and Golden Sixty) and Frankie Lor Fu-chuen (Reliable Team) shared the spoils, while jockeys Vincent Ho Chak-yiu (Golden Sixty) and Derek Leung Ka-chun (Reliable Team) joined Chau with big wins as the locals swept the afternoon’s features in a showcase of local talent that was great to see.
Unfortunately, the limitations in the city’s equine contingent will ensure it’s the last time the Hong Kong locals sweep a feature day in 2021.