More phooey from Hong Kong!

by | Apr 26, 2024

I have to make one thing clear before I get writing – I love British (and Irish) Racing, there are few better races than the 1000 or 2000 Guineas, Royal Ascot, The Epsom Derby, the Coral-Eclipse and so on BUT honesty rears its ugly head – for organisation, marketing, data distribution, and a genuine desire to look after the punters (you know, the ones who help pay to run the sport but are largely ignored over here), then I suggest Hong Kong top the charts – and by a wide margin.

I have been lucky enough to head out once more, with three Group Ones to focus on FWD Champions Day, Sunday 28th April 2024, with entries from Japan, the United Kingdom, and a host of top-class challengers from Hong Kong looking to keep all that lovely prize money at home.

I have confessed before that trying to compare form from one jurisdiction to another isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but we will have a look at the three big races, the overall form profiles, the chances of the European challengers – and a conclusion to see if we can find a winner or two (all three would be nice but that looks a huge ask).

Thankfully, punters are seen as key to the popularity (and income) of the sport, so information is not hard to come by – thank you to the Hong Kong Jockey Club for all the media e-mails I have received as well as the form guide that is available to all – in A4 size, in colour, and with plenty of reading to keep me busy, with the winners hiding in there somewhere. As a Brit I HAVE to mention the weather (we are known for moaning about it around the World, by the way), and it has been chucking it down on and off since I arrived – no suntan for yours truly. Far more importantly, we are second guessing the going come race time. The Sha Tin track is one of the best draining in the World, and if the rain stops racing by midnight Saturday, then the thought is it will ride good regardless of how much water falls between now and then. However, if it continues to rain on race day we could see the word yielding or soft appear in the going description – and that makes things very different. We then have an even bigger puzzle to solve, with some of the stronger fancies not at their best on a surface with too much give in it, European challengers potentially praying for more rain, and others yet to even work on soft ground, with the possibility of improvement – or a total form collapse.

What we do know is it will be competitive – prize money and a fair track does that sort of thing – and with (literally) millions of pounds up for grabs in each race we have strong fields, but decisions have to be made – and these are my views.

Believing – picture courtesy of the HKJC

Chairman’s Sprint Prize (Group One) £1,239,437 to the winner. 7.50am UK time.

From a British perspective we are looking at the George Boughey trained Believing, a 14/1 shot coming out of stall four – which is not a bad draw and is the one her trainer hoped for. She has won on going with plenty of cut in it which is a positive as is the booking of Harry Bentley in the saddle, and she has travelled well and taken everything in her stride. She could go well if the rain stops their rivals in her tracks but that would be second-guessing

Mother Nature, and I prefer the formbook. Her best win was the Group Three Prix Texanita at Chantilly in may last year suggesting she needs to find more to compete at this level leading me to pick elsewhere. Some of us had to eat humble pie after California Spangle handles the drop in trip with ease to take the Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan on Dubai Gold Cup night, and if that race hasn’t taken too much out of him even the 9/4 currently available looks pretty generous. He is officially rated 7lb or more better than all of his rivals at these weights, has an acceptable if not perfect draw in the seven stall, and has won here at Sha Tin 12 times, seven over further, four over course and distance, and one over five furlongs – so clearly an adaptable sort! Locally trained by Tony Cruz and without acclimatisation issues and to be ridden by Brenton Avdulla who has won two out of two on him, he is the logical selection, though this is a sprint and he will need the obligatory luck in running.

FWD Champions Mile (Group One) £1,239,437 to the winner. 9.00am UK time.

At the risk of being repetitive, rain on the day MAY turn the going soft and if that actually happens, then the 20/1 about Archie Watson’s Brave Emperor suddenly looks very tempting for each way punters. The Sioux Nation gelding won in his only start this year at Doha on Good ground, but his best performance last year saw him take the Group Two Premio Vittorio Di Capua at San Siro from useful yardstick Poker Face by four lengths on heavy ground, which seems to bring out the best in him. He can go well if conditions fall his way, but these are not easy races to win and he needs to find a few pounds to bother the likes of Golden Sixty, Hong Kong’s darling and one of the best milers in the World for the last few years. The winner of 26 of his 30 starts, 10 of those Group Ones and with career earnings of over £16,000,000, he now an eight-year-old and his time at the top has to be coming close to an end. That said, he has won all four starts in 2024 and is looking to win this race for an incredible fourth year in a row, making him frankly impossible to oppose. The one and only down side I can find is (you guessed it), the ground – he has only raced on a softer surface once when it was yielding here in the Gold Cup in February 2022 when he was a well-beaten third, but that was over 10 furlongs and I refuse to take the form too literally. What we do know is he has a devastating turn of foot – but can he produce that again if he does encounter a slower surface?

Massive Sovereign with Zac Purton defeats Galaxy Patch and Blake Shinn to win the BMW Hong Kong Derby on March 24, 2024 at Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong, China. Photo By: Alex Evers/HKJC

FWD QE2 Cup (Group One) £1,577,465 to the winner. 9.40am UK time.

I can certainly understand why Romantic Warrior heads the betting as he looks to make history by winning here for the third year in a row, and with a win in the Hong Kong Gold Cup on his one start in 2024. He has proved he is out of the top drawer with a win in the Cox Plate last November, one of Australia’s better races, and is only opposed in the hunt for value (it feels wrong to tip all three favourites, though a small win treble as a cover bet may not go amiss). Japanese raider Prognosis sits next in the betting after he took the Kinko Sho by an easy five lengths in March and following his second in this race in 2023, while Newmarket trainer William Haggas has made no secret of his desire to win one of the big Hong Kong races, and he runs Dubai Honour, who was third last year. He can go well on this ground and the more rain the better for the son of Pride Of Dubai, but I will take the each way risk on Massive Sovereign. Bought out of the Aidan O’Brien yard (where he raced under the name Broadhurst) he had won a Dundalk maiden and a Leopardstown handicap, and was quickly gelded (which is usual here), and sent to trainer Dennis Yip. A revelation since, he started with an easy wide-margin victory in a mile and a quarter handicap before being upped dramatically in class to take in the Hong Kong Derby last month. Champion jockey Zac Purton kept the faith and produced the son of No Nay Never with perfect timing to win by a neck, and we can expect him to be held up for late challenge once more today. There is no doubt he needs to improve again to mix it with these top-quality rivals, but that may well be exactly what he does, and with the ground perhaps less relevant to him than his rivals, 8/1 looks a sorely tempting each way kind of price to me.

Summary:

Sha Tin Sunday 28th April 2024

California Spangle 7.50am

Golden Sixty 9.00am

Massive Sovereign (each way) 9.40am

Podcast 05/04/24

Bob Champion says….

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