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Recapping the Hong Kong Experience

Below we have included a fairly random sampling of our various observations from the last week, enjoying the Longines Hong Kong International Races.

While having traveled to Hong Kong in the past, and visited both racecourses, this was our first appearance for the international races week. There is nothing short of a small army that works for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, and they are amongst the most informed, efficient, and well-appointed racing staff the world over. On the surface, it seems racing in Hong Kong is an easy sell. There isn’t much in the way of professional sport, and the crowds pile into the courses and plow it through the windows. But that doesn’t stop them from innovating, adapting, and providing the best experience possible.

We met Ed Lynam in Dubai several years ago, saw him in Singapore this May, and caught up a third time in Hong Kong, with his lovely family in tow. Lynam had perhaps the most prescient comment of the week, especially in light of what would happen on Sunday. On the bus back from trackwork one morning, sitting behind me, we had a conversation about the Sprint.

Asking us our thoughts on the Longines Hong Kong Sprint, we didn’t hold back, acknowledging Lord Kanaloa would be quite difficult to beat, especially off the blazing trackwork we all witnessed early in the week. Speaking to Thoroughmedia’s Simon Burgess in a recorded video interview, and extrapolating upon the same sentiment in our bus conversation, Lynam pondered aloud.

“How is that horse only rated 120?”

We wondered the same thing off the back of an incredibly solid season following his 2012 win in Hong Kong. In the post-race press conference, the expectation is that the son of King Kamehameha will get put up substantially for the five length tally over Lynam’s Sole Power. Not withstanding the tour-de-force we witnessed from the Japanese speedball, Lynam has proven his ability to travel with quality stock, run them over a full season and still maintain condition.

The affable fellow tipped us to one of his pending runners for the Dubai World Cup Carnival, and we’ll have more on that in the Dubai Racing Comprehensive, due just after New Year’s. Sole Power was a winner of the now group-level Meydan Sprint, has had two cracking runs in the Al Quoz Sprint, and don’t forget about Lynam’s third in the Dubai Golden Shaheen with Balmont Mast.

Dale Romans won the 2005 Dubai World Cup with Roses In May, and claims the best horse he ever trained was the now ridiculously successful stallion Kitten’s Joy, made a household name in all American racing states after producing a plethora of winners.

“Don’t tell me that before I get on a 15-hour flight,” Romans implored as we saw him checking-in for an early-Monday Cathay Pacific flight back to America.

Little Mike ran very well, ninth but beaten only 3 ¾ lengths in the Longines Hong Kong Cup. The son of now Saudi-based sire Spanish Steps tracked the Tokei Halo pace from third, and was pushed into contention too soon, an admission of jockey Mike Smith.

The stretch at Sha Tin is comparable in size to Churchill Downs, even slightly larger. Mike Smith is accustomed to riding smaller surfaces, and in the opposite direction. Watch Little Mike’s stretch run and you will visibly see him dig in and re-break. Still, he lost ground on the far turn and overall, covered roughly 4 ½ lengths more than winner Akeed Mofeed.

“If everything is good, we’ll be back,” Romans told us Monday. “Arlington Million, Breeders’ Cup, Hong Kong. They treat you very well over here.”

Jeremiah Englehart has barely raced horses outside of New York, let alone in the New Territories. He won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in the stewards’ room with 30-1 outsider Ria Antonia, and he made his first international trip with King Kreesa in the Longines Hong Kong Mile. The native upstate-New Yorker was wide-eyed in Hong Kong, soaking in the experience along with owners Gerald and Susan Kresa. With his lovely wife Robin joining him late in the week, and a couple young ones back home in New York, this guy is likely to be around a long time. A great experience in Hong Kong, regardless of the performance from his logical longshot, was a meaningful one.

“Do you know how many people told me not to come,” Englehart said early in the week. But the friendly fellow decided to make the trip, and he walked away with a new appreciation for the international nature of the sport. “You just don’t realize all that is out there,” Englehart told us on Thursday morning.

How about Akeed Mofeed? He managed a perfect trip under Douglas Whyte, sitting off the pace and waiting patiently for the gap that came when Tokei Halo lengthened in the stretch. Yutaka Take’s ability to rate the Japanese entrant was perfect, leaving something in reserve. If he backed-up like a typical outsider would, it’s likely Akeed Mofeed never has a chance to run on, and Cirrus Des Aigles or Military Attack would have landed the spoils. It also shows the importance of post position in some races.

Drawn wide last time in the Longines Jockey Club Cup at Sha Tin, Akeed Mofeed was never less than two wide, but wider than that at stages, compared to the ground-saving victor, Liberator.

Jwala’s clipping heels, which led to a fatal injury that certainly appeared to involve a massive circulatory collapse, was a total low-light for the week. The filly, a Group 1 winner earlier this year, was speed in the race and starting to fade in the lane. Charles The Great and Lucky Nine both leaned heavily on each side of her, when both were well beaten, and the filly came down. Considering that Tommy Berry was suspended a month for nearly imperceptibly dropping his hands in the last race of the meeting, we have to think both Douglas Whyte and Brett Prebble are staring down massive suspensions for leaning on Jwala, bringing about the grief that led to the filly’s demise, and health implications for jockey Steven Drowne. Adjudicating races in Hong Kong is really quite simple – the slightest mistakes are exploited for the rest of the colony, as integrity and order is maintained with fierce resolve.

We are now in Arizona for the annual Global Symposium on Racing & Gaming, speaking relative to the impact of new data in the sport. One of the sessions during the four-day conference is designed around planning for “worst-case scenarios.” It doesn’t get much worse than a young filly going down with a devastating injury, legs still flailing, but prone, with a jockey in the firing line, plum in front of 70,000 spectators. Maintaining standard protocol for the pending trophy presentation was viewed by many as insensitive to the race-related tragedy. Can there be better planning in the event of a very public racing disaster? Yes.

You can’t unring the bell – the filly was motionless 15 seconds after coming to grief, and while the veterinarian, connections, and officials rushed to her soon thereafter, it was another 90 seconds before the screen went up. As it was, the marching band paraded up the stretch, past the screens, and played the beautiful Kimi Ga Yo, national anthem of Japan. Listen to the music, knowing what happened, and you will understand the situation. After the band finished one of the world’s shortest anthems, a reverential applause went up from the masses, best described by the South China Morning Post’s newest correspondent, Andrew Hawkins.

@AndrewNJHawkins The Japanese anthem was more like a mournful salute to Jwala than a celebration for Lord Kanaloa. Eerie, but shows crowd as horse lovers.

It was true.

Some semblance of a back-up plan needs to be in place for these types of celebrations. While we recognize that there is one deserving winner of a very rich race, the status-quo is not always appropriate when extraordinary circumstances exist. On the turf itself, the connections of Lord Kanaloa received trophies and took pictures less than fifty metres from carnage behind a green screen

Video of the HKIR is not offered to some audiences in the world, nor is betting, most notably North America. With two American horses in two different races, we were asked time and time again, via Twitter, how the races could be seen live (they went postward at 2:45 and 3:30 A.M. on the east coast of the US, where these horses were stabled). Commingling is due to take off in HK in the first quarter of 2014, and hopefully with it, a new audience can latch onto the big pools, engaging broadcast team, and the overall experience.

How could some books get it so wrong? A friend contacted us the morning of the race after we tweeted the local advanced tote action for the four HKIR. Dominant, the eventual winner of the Hong Kong Vase, was 100-1 with some of the bookmakers, perhaps even as high as 150-1 earlier in the week, while he was 13-2 in the early trading on the tote. Eventually off at 13-1, those who took a flyer were rewarded given the play of the well-informed local punters. Those odds are available on the HKJC’s website at least 24 hours in advance of a meeting. Bar the daily Jockey Challenge betting, all other pools relative to racing are on the tote.

It was a stellar week in Hong Kong, with many racing parties present from five continents. Regardless of the results at the end of the races, bringing the sport together in these types of events is always worthwhile for all involved.

One comment

  1. My picks for the 4 G1 races at Sha Tin on Sunday were The Fugue to win the Hong Kong Vase, Lord Kanaloa to win the Hong Kong Sprint, Gold-Fun to win the Hong Kong Mile, and Akeed Mofeed to win the Hong Kong Cup, so I’d have to say I did alright picking 2-winners and 2-2nd’s. Taking nothing away from the monster race Dominant ran in the Vase, but if The Fugue has ever received a worse ride from William Buick than she got in that race I haven’t seen. IMO, it was even worse than the ride he gave her in last seasons BC F&M Turf at Santa Anita when he got her boxed in on the rail with no running room at a crucial point in the race. The Fugue broke beautifully in the Vase and had near perfect track position early on, as close to being in the box seat as she could’ve been. But why Buick allowed her to continue to get shuffled further & further back in the field as the race progressed is a total mystery to me? Some say The Fugue got a luckless trip, having to check off the heels of Feuerblitz when Buick finally started his run on her. But I say it wasn’t a luckless trip but a horrendous ride on Buick’s part. She would’ve never been in the position to even have to check off the heels of Feuerblitz if she’d been ridden properly by Buick throughout, IMO. If anyone got a luckless trip in the Hong Kong Vase it was Red Cadeaux, stuck out 4 or 5 wide the entire race with no room for Mosse to maneuver to get him cover at any point. But TJMO.

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