As seems typical as soon as I leave for Hong Kong we have a winner thanks to Highland Retreat at Huntingdon, but all I can say is that if you do think I am the bad luck, feel free to send donations and I will stay over here long term! Away from the tourist brochure and the amazing food (I love Chinese cooking though this was the first time I have seen donkey on the menu), we get back to the age old argument of tote monopoly or its equivalent (which they have here, officially at least), and the open culture and bookmakers we have back home in the United Kingdom. Forgetting the prize money (as if we ever could), it is the transparency that really stands out here with a total information bombardment of the media, and thus on to the punters as well. All the horses work on the track for the week or so ahead of the race and are timed as they do so with that information freely available while connections are educated to be a lot more helpful and will report travelling weight loss, eating habits, gallop plans, draw requirements, even race tactics on occasion – no need to try and hide behind a bush at Newmarket second guessing what weight each horse is carrying up the Limekilns, or ear wigging a private conversation in a Lambourn hostelry – here the customer (punter and/or racegoer) is given all the available facts before making their decision – rightly or wrongly – presumably because you cannot take a price or effectively manipulate such a massive market.
Before the big race meeting billed as the World Turf Championships locally, we had the not insignificant matter of the International Jockeys Challenge at Happy Valley on the Wednesday night though with no time to study the form I freely admit this was more of a party than a betting opportunity. Ryan Moore and Richard Hughes were both in the line up along with a stellar cast that included Kerrin McEvoy, Christophe Soumillon and local favourites Joao Moreira and Zac Purton who may have expected to have the edge on course knowledge and are class acts in this part of the World, more than capable of riding against our very best I assure you. Naturally, being me, I failed to even mention Japanese winner Yuichi Fukunaga who is a a newbie to me at least, and explains why I never bet in these contests (ditto the Shergar Cup) as they are an even quicker way of parting me from my cash in my book. Ryan Moore did at least ride the winner of the last of the four race challenge but looked as happy as ever rather negating my arguments with other nations that he isn’t miserable, just camera shy (see picture) – though God only knows what he looks like after riding a loser lol?
Looking ahead to the weekend here and I have had a good long look and concluded (hopefully inaccurately) that we are unlikely to bring back too much prize money, with my no doubt flawed reasoning below:
Firstly I need to point out that even trying to compare any form from one continent to another is fraught with danger, so that’s my main excuse out of the way! A mile and a half awaits them in the Longines Hong Kong Vase due off at 2.00pm local time and perhaps the race where we hold the strongest hand? French challenger Flintshire heads both the betting and the ratings and perhaps deservedly so based on his runners up berth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, all be it well behind the amazing Treve, but he does seem to like to finish in that position more often than not (five times from just eleven races), which may be enough to make you want to look elsewhere for value? German option Empoli may be seen to better effect on going with a little less sting to it while Red Cadeaux invariably runs well here having won it in 2012 and would be a popular victor, but cannot be getting any better at the age of eight. Parish Hall is interesting for a long odds outsider with trainer Jim Bolger still trying to get the five year old back to his juvenile form, yet I am tempted by Snow Sky as an each way option thanks to listening to others more than the form book. A son of Nayef I don’t see the quicker going as a concern and after a respectable third in the St Leger he arrives here fresh and could at least be the dark horse of the European party at odds around the 8/1 mark in the UK -though I suspect a little bigger elsewhere if you shop around.
Moving on to the sprint at 2.40pm (again local time), and we are relying on the Irish runners to give us any chance of victory. Sole Power is a class act having won at both Royal Ascot (Kings Stand Stakes) and York (Nunthorpe Stakes) this season, though he did look as if the last few strides of this sort of trip (six furlongs) may be beyond him at the highest level when well beaten at Haydock in the Sprint Cup, and he has never won at this trip despite six attempts. Gordon Lord Byron on the other hand, stays further with wins at up to a mile, though he seems to be better on going with a bit of cut in it having never won on anything like as fast as he is likely to face on Sunday. Fact is I think he could get placed at a price (he looked a picture at work on Thursday morning), but overall I would not be surprised to see local domination – though I would love to be proved wrong of course.
The Longines Hong Kong Mile at 3.50pm has two raiders both from England as Roger Charlton sends Captain Cat (will love the ground but could be outclassed here) and David Simcock’s Trade Storm, already a success story after winning the Woodbine Mile in Canada with all it’s riches. He did look in particularly good heart at work the other morning and no one would deny him his place chances but once again, it looks as though we are tilting at windmills and I will be pleasantly surprised if we are anywhere near the money as they flash past the line.
Lastly (well, for this year anyway), we have the Longines Hong Kong Cup at 4.30pm local time, a mile and a quarter event worth a massive £1.1 million to the winner and not to be sniffed at. French gelding Cirrus Des Aigles knows his way around the track a lot better than I do having finished third in this race last year as well as fifth in 2011, seventh in 2010, and fifth in the Vase in 2009, but if he couldn’t win it at his best why should he be able to win it at the age of eight I wonder? He looks well enough in himself to be fair, and stranger things have happened in this sport but sorry, even the romantic side of me can’t quite see it. Newmarket trainer Roger Varian has an interesting one with Farraaj who has bits and pieces of form that suggest he is in with a chance of a place, and they have reported that they are very happy with his preparation since arriving after his third in the Mackinnon Stakes at Flemington, though once again, I am pretty certain we will not be taking home first prize! Ending with something a little more positive (the results will define that one), and we have been talking quite a bit over here about two horses that some of us will be backing in an each way double at prices as well. As mentioned above, Snow Sky looks interesting for a place at the prices but we are also pretty keen on Archimedes who is a Japanese entrant in the Hong Kong Cup and trading at double figures. Owned by Sheikh Mohammed and racing in his colours, he was last seen when second to Just A Way which is anything but a disgrace, and although we are all surprised he has not been given a prep race since March and can’t quite work out what he is doing here, connections are powerful enough to make us look twice and all things are possible in these events I assure you.
Moving on to matters closer at home, and how can I just let Cheltenham take place without a bet or two? If the rain stays away and the going remains good (hard to tell from over here, I can’t just look out of the window), than Hargam will be my first bet in the Triumph Hurdle trial at 12.15pm. He looked to be cantering on his debut but either failed to stay or blew up close home here when mugged close home by Golden Doyen. Either way if he is a legitimate Festival chance he will need to put that right this afternoon and I ma pretty hop0eful he will do just that.
Finally, and I know I shouldn’t (but I don’t care), how about Rock On Ruby in the Relkeel Hurdle at 3.45pm? The two and a half miles is ideal these days in my view, harry Fry has him in good shape, and we would all love him to add another winner here to go with his Champion Hurdle – sentimental, no logic, and sticking with out new friend Harry – you bet, and no apologies for that either!
Good luck one and all…..
Selections this week:
Hargam 12.15pm Cheltenham Saturday
Rock On Ruby 3.45pm Cheltenham Saturday
Small each way Sunday Hong Kong double:
Snow Sky Hong Kong Vase
Archimedes Hong Kong Cup
Horses to follow:
Creepy – well supported on his debut over fences this week at Chepstow when making all and jumping well throughout to score by twenty lengths easing down. Trainer Martin Keighley thinks a lot of him and he will surely add more races to that success this season with the Sun Alliance Chase at Cheltenham presumably his long-term objective. Looked well beaten when unseating Richard Johnson last weekend at Cheltenham but can still win races if kept to a sensible grade.
***Did not run last week – no current entries***
Broxbourne – used to be well above average on the flat when trained by Mark Johnston and looked like a machine when winning at lowly Fakenham for Nicky Henderson this week. More of a confidence booster than a real race he is entitled to improve for his first run in over a year and he could be pretty decent over two and a half miles or further over hurdles and seems sure to add to that victory.
*** No current entries***
Ballyallia Man – Tom George is off to a flyer and this nine year old returned to action with little more than an exercise canter to win at Wincanton by a long looking six lengths. This was his first run for seven months or so and he is entitled to strip a little bit fitter next time out, so as long as the handicapper isn’t too punitive he ought to score next time out as well, after which he may be in the grips and can be removed with profit made!
*** Third last Friday and no current entries***
Hargam – an unlucky runner up on his hurdling debut the three year old was travelling as if it was a matter of how far not if at Cheltenham before fading up the infamous hill. With that run behind him he is surely a shoe in to win next time out and could win a few more if sensibly entered.
***Entered at Cheltenham Saturday 12.15pm***