It’ll come as no surprise if there’s some bedraggled and battle-weary officials trackside at Wednesday night’s Longines International Jockeys’ Championship, whether the full line-up of overseas stars make it to the starting gates or not.
After a week of dealing with the uncertainty and allaying the concerns that came hand in hand with the Omicron variant, the Jockey Club’s top brass have suffered another sleepless night after the private plane set to bring in some of Europe’s best jockeys suffered “technical issues”.
IJC drawcards Ryan Moore, Mickael Barzalona, Hollie Doyle and Tom Marquand were due to fly out of London’s Stansted Airport on Sunday and arrive in Hong Kong on Monday morning, giving them plenty of time to settle in before the midweek showcase.
That plan went up in smoke, however, and there were no doubt some nervous moments as officials fleshed out what it meant for their showcase week.
International Jockeys’ Championship wide open after allocation of rides: ‘anything can win’
A post-midnight press release stated that the “flight operator is now addressing the issue. There will be a change of arrival time of eight overseas connections” and the eventual confirmation of a 24-hour delay would have been music to many ears.
The quartet – as well as other connections including Pyledriver’s trainer William Muir and jockey Martin Dwyer – will now touch down on Tuesday morning and it remains business as usual for the IJC, which will see seven overseas stars jet in to tackle five Hong Kong-based jockeys.
Marquand has a winning chance aboard the David Hayes-trained Awesome Treasure in the IJC and partners Dubai Honour – rated a $3.25 chance in overseas fixed-odds markets – for William Haggas in the Hong Kong Cup.
“Whatever the final checks were for the plane, it didn’t pass, so at least they found out before we got on,” Marquand said.
“I actually have a flat in Newmarket, we live at the other end of the country but obviously riding for William so much I come up here twice a week in the summer.
“Stansted is literally half an hour away which was a result and Hollie for some reason had the keys in her bag, which she wouldn’t normally, so we just went back there. Normally I just leave them in my car and obviously we got picked up instead of driving down.”
James McDonald, Damian Lane and Yuga Kawada are the other riders flying in for the IJC, with McDonald and Lane arriving on Monday and Kawada expected to touch down on Tuesday afternoon.
Pakistan stops, surely for the last time
The career of Hong Kong fan favourite Pakistan Star must surely be over after the enigmatic galloper again refused to participate in his racetrack return at Abu Dhabi on Sunday night.
In his first run since his debut in the United Arab Emirates almost a year ago to the day, the Doug Watson-trained Pakistan Star jumped with the field before getting squeezed between runners and deciding he’d had enough.
It’s nothing new for the Kerm Din-owned eight-year-old, whose Hong Kong career ended after he stopped twice during races here – first in the “Pakistan Stop” Group Three Premier Plate in June 2017 when he started a $1.2 favourite and then in the 2019 Group Two Jockey Club Sprint (1,200m) when he jumped but refused to run any further than about 100m.
He’ll always hold a spot in the hearts of Hong Kong punters, however, after lighting up the internet with mind-boggling last-to-first performances in his first two runs and producing Group One victories in the QE II Cup and Champions & Chater Cup among his five Sha Tin wins.