Sunday, December 9, 2007

Hong Kong International Races

A big day with big names from all across the horse racing industry, the Hong Kong Jockey Club really outdid themselves this year in terms of overall racing quality. The following are a few personal thoughts and insights from this year's Hong Kong international races.

1. Sacred Kingdom is scary good. It gave a shellacking to a horse that gave a shellacking to last year's best sprinters and a horse that set the course and distance record. There were plenty of excuses for Miss Andretti but in the words of The Rock, "IT DOESN'T MATTER" if Miss Andretti had gotten a better run with the performance Sacred Kingdom put in. Pretty much the same as last year when Takeover Target couldn't run but Absolute Champion's dismissal of that field made it clear who was going to win anyway.

2. A horse that is specifically prepped for a race will always run better than those that weren't. In this year's case Dr. Dino was specifically prepped for the Vase and put in a brilliant performance, while Dylan Thomas only made the trip here as a last chance to get a race in before retiring to stud. When Dylan Thomas put in that poor performance in the BC Turf it was clear that he had topped off in the Arc, which was exactly the race that Aiden O'Brien specifically prepped him for.

3. European mile form is incredibly useless. Like I said when previewing the BC Mile, asian sprinter-milers are the best and Good Ba Ba won an excellent race with Excellent Art nowhere to be found. You could make a case for saying that both the runner ups were European horses but their forms were Classic forms, with their mile form at the 1000 and 2000 Guineas races. All I'm saying is that the form from European G1 sprint or mile races don't tend to hold up very well.

4. Frankie Dettori is still the best turf jockey in the world. The run on Creachadoir from the outside draw to end up on the inside of Good Ba Ba was brilliant and the fight he put in the horse after it got headed by Good Ba Ba resulted in one of the better duels I've seen in a HKIR finish in a while. There was also a spectacular run on Ramonti in the Cup where Dettori gave up the rail to make sure he had a nice run with a horse to follow for cover as Ramonti started out very keen. Which brings us to...

5. Mick Kinane is still the most frustrating jockey to watch in the world. He is still one of the very best big race jockeys and I wouldn't want anyone else on if I had a backmarker horse and a long straight like at Longchamp. But Kinane gets into trouble more than any other big race rider I've ever seen. I remember greats like Rock of Gibraltar and Giants' Causeway that would rumble home down the straight but end up just a little shy because it was sitting in the box for so long.

6. Not that I think it would have made a difference to the result, however. With Ramonti having the initiative and the final 400m run in 22.7, there's not much that can be done to chase down a world class horse. Anywhere else in the world the owner or trainer of Viva Pataca would put in another horse (a rabbit) to make sure it was a truly run race and really test Ramonti's stamina. But Hong Kong has a really really big thing against collusion and corruption and the like so even simple tactics like that are essentially not allowed.

Final words on Hong Kong hopefuls:

Sacred Kingdom is clearly the best sprinter in the world and I hope Ricky Yiu takes it abroad to throw the gauntlet down. Ricky's a trainer who's had two of Hong Kong's best horses (Fairy King Prawn and Electric Unicorn) taken from him while he was still winning with them! He's got to keep proving himself I guess.

Another possibility is that Absolute Champion travels the world if Sacred Kingdom stays put. It'll be a carbon copy of when Cape of Good Hope travelled the world winning G1s because Silent Witness was too strong and wouldn't leave Hong Kong.

Vengeance of Rain might be done at the very top world class level. The horse had achieved a lot, even before the Dubai Sheema win, so it's natural that the horse is past its prime.

Could it be that Viva Pataca is now at its best over a mile and a half? I believe if you have a horse that can perform at that level at the Classic distance you take him around the world to the very best races (Japan Cup, L'Arc, Diamond Stakes, etc.). However, John Moore seems to have this infatuation with the Cox Plate and I'd be very disappointed if that is the big race he preps Viva Pataca for next year.

No idea what will happen with Good Ba Ba. It's tough with a horse that is not ultra-consistent (Good Ba Ba seems to either win or not be in it) and a horse that is not even a clear lock to win all the domestic mile races (Armada might come back, and in general there are a lot of genuine top level milers in Hong Kong). But with that turn of foot I do hope Good Ba Ba gets taken abroad, and I don't count the Yasuda Kinen because that is probably the toughest turf mile race right now in the world and yet doesn't get the deserved recognition.

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