Jamie Richards unveils his recently opened Hong Kong stable’s horse to follow this season at Happy Valley on Wednesday night, and he hopes the imported galloper continues responding favourably to a New Zealander training him and an Australian riding him.
Kiwi handler Chris Waller did the saddling and Aussie jockey Craig Williams did the steering when Starfire Gems – then named Matsukaze after a famous Japanese warhorse – broke his maiden on his last start in Australia before his move to Hong Kong.
On Wednesday, Richards will leg up Zac Purton aboard Starfire Gems in the Class Three Longines Cup (1,200m). It will be the first time the Australasian associates have combined in a race.
Richards knows the statistics are against imported horses with competitive experience winning on their Hong Kong debuts, but he is confident Starfire Gems – whose Japanese sire Maurice won three of the city’s major events in the space of 12 months across 2015 and 2016 – will make a positive first impression.
“He’s arrived on a good mark, 63,” said Richards of Starfire Gems, whose full Australian race record comprises one first, two seconds and one fifth.
“He’s a big, powerful, good-looking horse by an exciting stallion. We like him in the stable, we’ve liked his trials, and Zac’s been happy with him.
“This is very much a starting point for him. He’s got good natural gate speed for a big horse, so we think Happy Valley should suit him first up.
“[Private purchases] find it very difficult to win on their first starts in Hong Kong – that’s very important to acknowledge – but he’s a horse for the future, we like him and we expect him to be quite handy after Christmas,” predicted Richards, who would like to see Starfire Gems settle in the first three or four under “gun barrier rider” Purton.
Richards made gear changes to six of his first seven Hong Kong runners, and even though the odd one out was his breakthrough winner, Handsome Rebel, he is not about to start second-guessing his instincts.
“I’ve never been one to shy away from putting different gear on horses if I think it’d help them,” said Richards, who has chosen to apply a crossover noseband to Starfire Gems and two new pieces of equipment to Copartner Fionn, who will contest the Class Three Speedy Handicap (1,200m) under Matthew Chadwick.
“Copartner Fionn is an energetic horse in the morning, and he was a little bit naughty in the barriers at his first trial, so he’s going to race in a hood and a set of pacifiers to try settling him down.”
“Something that’s quite common for our stable is horses wearing tongue ties. I like to experiment with different things and see what effects they have on horses. I won’t get it right all the time, but I’m not scared of putting the gear on them.”
Chicken Dance completes the Richards trio heading to Happy Valley. He won a Class Four at Sha Tin in July on his final appearance for Paul O’Sullivan and Richards is positive of him running a good race in the Class Four Swifty Handicap (1,200m), even though he finished 11th on his only previous attempt at mastering the tight city circuit.
“He’s drawn a nice barrier. He’s only had one start there before. That was in Class Three, so now he’s back in Class Four we’re happy to give him a go around there when he’s fresh,” Richards said.