Romance and Beauty in Hong Kong!

by | Apr 28, 2024

Raceday is here and we (the press in their droves) are starting to arrive at the Media Room, Sha Tin Racecourse, booted and suited ready for an intriguing day.

Heavy rain saw the going changed to Good to Yielding overnight but we all know this is one of the fastest draining courses on the planet, making it a bit of a guessing game regarding the actual going by the off-time for the first race – though with my preview articles written and bets placed it was already too late for me to change my mind regardless.

Life is, as we know, all about priorities, so my first job was to find the coffee machine, peruse the gift shop, and have a look around at the various offerings available to all, mainly in an attempt to embarrass our own racecourses’ price gouging mentality, that isn’t acceptable in the fight for the leisure pound. Entrance to the big meeting here at Sha Tin starts at £1 for general admission and £19 to get into the Members Enclosure – and this is for a card with three Group Ones and in a Country where the cost of living is considerably higher than the UK.

Racecards are fairly similar to home in both look and format, but only cost £1.50 as opposed to £5 or more in the UK (or Free if you are a tourist AND they get a £5 food and drink voucher for free) , while a quick walk round the foodcourt (OK, I had to try some) saw a variety of options including curry and rice for a fiver, hotdogs for less than £3, sandwiches for £4 and a beer for £4 – British tracks hold your heads in shame.

Next stop saw the opening ceremony, not my cup of coffee (I don’t drink tea) but with local heart throb Hins Cheung on the stage the crowds had gathered bright and early to get a glimpse of their idol. Not for me I admit, but the Hong Kong Jockey Club clearly know their audience as the day started with a bang despite the rain dampening things a little with thousands of “selfies” taken as racegoers shared how much they were already enjoying their Sunday afternoon.

The early races only interested me a little but if you were looking for a European angle, the ex-Joseph O’Brien trained Stunning Peach had to be of interest in race two (he was known as Islandsinthestream in Ireland) with plenty of solid form in Group class to call upon, leading to intrigue as to why they sold him – and for how much? That we may never know, but what we saw come the race was a frankly disappointing effort as he sat midfield early doors before jockey Zac Purton went to work a long way out, only to get very little reaction to his urgings. I would hope that was not as good as he is, but I can put my hand on my heart and say I considered a biggish bet on him and bottled it – one of my better decisions!

With no favourites from the first four races, punters were left gasping for air by the first of our Group Ones, where California Spangle headed the market at local odds of 2.1 or thereabouts, and 3.25 (9/4) back in the United Kingdom for the Chairmans Sprint over six furlongs. Breaking out of the seven stall, the six-year-old was up in the van throughout but didn’t look as if he was enjoying things for whatever reason, and you could call Invincible Sage the winner from a long way out. With a furlong plus to go Hugh Bowman was travelling very sweetly in third place on the son of Thronum who quickened past the leaders to win pretty comfortably by length and a half. To his credit, California Spangle battled on to hold on to second (much use as that was to me or other favourite backers) with Mugen in third, and British challenger Believing a disappointing ninth, close to 10 lengths adrift of the winner.

Picture courtesy of the HKJC

Licking my wounds (yet again) I had enough time to contemplate the error of my ways thanks to a Class Three handicap before the FWD Champions Mile, and although I had no real interest, congratulations to Karis Teetan, one of racings’ nice guys, for winning his second race of the day (he was also on board Lucy In The Sky in Race Three) on the ex-Australian Top Gun. He did need to survive an enquiry and left us six races deep without a winning jolly – but the next stop was the mighty Golden Sixty, the most popular horse in Hong Kong, a local icon – and surely the winner of the FWD Champions Mile – albeit at Evens in the UK, and odds on over here. Once again favourite backers took a slap in the face with Golden Sixty failing to show his usual turn of foot on the softer surface, and it will be interesting to see if connections stick to his immediate retirement plan – or bring him back one more time to try and sign off on a winning note. As far as the majority of the crowd were concerned, Zac Purton was the pantomime villain winning here on board Beauty Eternal (above), riding them to sleep on the front end from early on, and never being seriously challenged. It was a lesson in tactics and thoroughly deserving of his riding fee and more, but it will never be recognised by the Hong Kong public with Golden Sixty getting the bigger cheer on his return, despite only finishing fourth. Meanwhile, Archie Watson’s Brave Emperor trailed in ninth of 11, beaten close to 10 lengths and reminding us all that there is plenty of racing talent elsewhere in the World, and that we need to either up our game – or send some better horses in the hunt for the better prize money.

Picture courtesy of the HKJC

A week in Hong Kong and just the one big race to go, as Romantic Warrior (above) looked to win the QE2 Cup for the third time. Sent off favourite and opposed by yours truly because of the price, you can guess what happened next as the six-year-old landed the odds and because the first horse in history to win this prestigious contest for the third time – with the chance of more to come. Japanese raider prognosis ran a remarkable race in second at a bigger price leaving fellow Japanese runner North Bridge in third – and Europe’s big hope Dubai Honour in seventh, where he raced pretty much throughout, beaten four lengths at the line.

Conclusions:

I am beginning, after all these years, to finally realise that good as racing is in the UK and Ireland (and at the top level, it is superb), we need to stop assuming our second strength animals are good enough to win at the highest level abroad – they aren’t. I do not and never will blame connections for having a go, horses are for racing after all, but we have to delete the mindset that we have the better horses – just because we are European. Three Group One races today, raiders from Europe and Japan, yet all three prizes stayed at home – despite two short-priced favourites failing to run to their true abilities. There is massive strength in depth in Hong Kong despite the relatively small horse population (1200 in total

compared to approximately 14,000 in the UK and another 10,000 or more in Ireland) and perhaps there is plenty for us to learn if we want to come over here and take home at least some of the goodies?

Podcast 05/04/24

Bob Champion says….

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