Tag Archive for: Hong Kong Vase

Monday Musings: Overseas Despatches

Time was when a post-season challenge for the international races at Sha Tin racecourse was a fairly commonplace objective for high-class horses still in good heart, writes Tony Stafford. Four contests, each worth in excess of £1 million to the winner, were attraction enough. In the world of post- and apparently still-present Covid, things have changed.

Seven European-trained horses set off for Hong Kong at the end of their European seasons. None of the one French, two British and four Irish took back a victory from yesterday’s challenges, but such is the generosity of the prize pool, four will return with six-figure hauls.

Transportation difficulties have been a major adjunct to Covid times in all spheres with regulations for horse travel being especially onerous. That Willie Muir and joint-trainer Chris Grassick would have the foresight to send the partnership-owned Pyledriver for the Hong Kong Vase took courage and determination to see the project through.

Pyledriver didn’t manage to win, but in finishing a length second under Muir’s son-in-law Martin Dwyer to odds-on Japanese-trained favourite Glory Vase – it truly was a glory Vase for the winner! -  the Lambourn-trained runner matched anything he had ever previously achieved.

The second-favourite at 7-2, he lived up to that status, seeing off French-trained Ebaiyra to the tune of two-and-a-half lengths with Aidan O’Brien’s Mogul only sixth. In collecting £415,486 he easily eclipsed all the prizes he’d earned in his twelve previous starts, with five wins from his three seasons’ racing.

The equal youngest, at age four, with the other two Europeans, Pyledriver, who is still a colt – the winner is also an entire – must have more big pay-days ahead of him. Many plaudits, as well as Hong Kong dollars and other international currencies, can come the way of his entrepreneurial connections.

Only Mother Earth ran for European teams in the Mile and the hard-working 1000 Guineas heroine, coming on after Del Mar and the Breeders’ Cup, picked up fourth. That was worth £139k, supplementing Mogul's £37k for sixth in Pyledriver’s race. Ebaiyra picked up £188k for third there.

The Irish duo in the Hong Kong Cup, over 10 furlongs and the most valuable of the four races at £1.6 million to the winner, were unplaced, Bolshoi Ballet only ninth for O’Brien and Jim Bolger’s Irish 2000 Guineas winner Mac Swiney last of 12.

William Haggas, the only other UK trainer represented, did better, his Dubai Honour picking up £161k for his close fourth behind Japanese mare Loves Only You who was adding to her Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf win last month at Del Mar. Dubai Honour, under Tom Marquand, was running at least on a par to his second behind Sealiway in the Champion Stakes at Ascot last month.

I would imagine that Haggas and his horse’ s owner Mohamed Obaida will have pricked up their ears that Sealiway’s trainer Cedric Rossi, as well as Cedric’s father Charlie, who was Sealiway’s previous handler, and other members of the family have been arrested in Marseille in relation to enquiries into allegations of doping. Who knows, there could be some ramifications to come and maybe even a Group 1 disqualification in favour of Dubai Honour.

Back home in the UK, jumping continues apace but this past weekend must be possibly one of the least informative in relation to the Holy Grail of unearthing Cheltenham Festival winners. Indeed the two days of Cheltenham’s December fixture were more notable first for the astonishing level of demand for National Hunt stock at the Friday night sale at the track, and then for Bryony Frost’s absence from the meeting, than anything happening on the course itself.

True, My Drogo restored what in reality had been only a minor blemish on his record when smoothly erasing the memory of his earlier course fall to re-emphasise his candidature for the Festival, much to the relief of the Skeltons. Otherwise it was ordinary enough.

Bryony, cheered by the crowd at Warwick on Thursday upon the news of Robbie Dunne’s 18-month suspension with all four charges of bullying proven, was despatched by boss Paul Nicholls to Doncaster over the weekend where she had an anti-climactic two winner-free days.

I have been canvassing some trainer friends around the country and they have all noticed over the years instances of inappropriate behaviour by jockeys to female riders at different times. It may have been thought acceptable in the days when girls were far less commonplace in stable yards and on racecourses, but those days are long gone.

Now they are ever more prominent and respected thanks to the exploits of Hayley Turner, Josephine Gordon, Hollie Doyle and Nicola Currie on the Flat and in the UK Bryony and the Andrews sisters, Gina and Bridget, over jumps. In Ireland, Rachael Blackmore has picked up the baton relinquished by Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh and carried their achievements to unprecedented and unimagined heights.

In these days of improved nutrition and the resultant increasing in the size of successive generations more women, with their natural lighter weights have been needed to offset the scarcity of smaller male riders, especially for Flat racing. Some yards like Sir Mark Prescott’s would have to pack up – although his stable is a case of choice rather than necessity.

In those far-off days of Sir Gordon Richards and his generation, girl riders never got a look in and nor were they to be found too often in stables, despite their success at the top level in show jumping and eventing. Historic examples abound like Charlie Gordon-Watson’s sister, Mary, and Marion Mould, not to mention Princess Anne and daughter Zara Tindall.

In many other sporting spheres – football, cricket and rugby in the UK are the most obvious in terms of professionalism –women have become much more prominent and women’s golf has long been at the forefront of international sport at the highest level. Nowadays racing could not survive without its female participants.

***

Yesterday when I heard the words “Tornado” and “Kentucky” in the same breath I confess I was instantly confronted by an image of flattened barns, devastated meadows - possibly already under snow as is often the case in much of Kentucky through the heart of winter - with animals helplessly strewn far and wide.

Kentucky to me is first Lexington and its stud farms - an area I’d visited so many times between the early 1980’s and 15 years ago. Second is Louisville, birthplace of Mohammed Ali and home of the Kentucky Derby. I’ve been there a few times, too.

The tornado which on Saturday came in at 220 m.p.h. and flattened a candle factory in Mayfield, trapping it was thought more than 100 workers – 40 apparently managed to get out – was centred near the western border of the south-eastern state. Lexington is way across to the east and 75 miles due south of Cincinnati on the borders of Ohio.

That south-western part of Kentucky is apparently tornado country, a manifestation that occurs when cold dry air meets warm moist air. The cold air is denser so it settles on top of the warm air and forces it to the ground where the tornado is formed.

While the terrible loss of life and devastation to people and their property is tragic in the extreme my initial dread I confess did concern the horses. I feared the tornado could have reached considerably further east – Mayfield is 265 miles south-west of Lexington – but that it seems was unfounded. These occur regularly in the region near Mayfield, though never previously with this intensity or effect.

Declared the biggest tragedy in the history of Kentucky by Democrat Governor Andy Beshear, a 44- year-old lawyer who won the state’s top job by 0.2%, you could imagine the initial worries in the stud farms of the region as the mares prepare to foal down their valuable produce in the New Year.

Sales prices have been booming. We have been here before when studs have been enjoying good times only for the hammer blow to fall. It only takes a little adjustment to make things less rosy. Like a misplaced tornado for example!

Mogul bidding for Vase repeat

Mogul will try to return to his best as he defends his Longines Hong Kong Vase title at Sha Tin on Sunday.

The Aidan O’Brien-trained four-year-old won the 12-furlong Group One last December but has failed to strike in four starts so far this term, with his best run coming when third in the Prix Ganay at ParisLongchamp back in May.

Mogul has not run since finishing down the field in a Group Three at Deauville in August, but big-race rider Ryan Moore thinks he has every chance of bouncing back in Hong Kong and emulating Highland Reel, who was a dual winner of the race in 2015 and 2017.

He said: “He’s had a quiet year. He started in Dubai and ran respectably and (then) ran a good race in Paris in the Prix Ganay before the ground was very soft at Epsom for the Coronation and he didn’t like it and it was the same again when he went back to Deauville.

“A few things haven’t gone quite right for him through the summer, so he’s been lightly raced. His work’s been good at home and he looks great. We know he likes Sha Tin and he likes quick ground. I believe Aidan’s very happy with him, so we’re hoping that he can step back in the right direction.”

Pyledriver represents British interests in the Vase.

Mother Earth won the 1000 Guineas at the start of the year
Mother Earth won the 1000 Guineas at the start of the year (David Davies/Jockey Club)

O’Brien and Moore also team up with Mother Earth in the Longines Hong Kong Mile, in which they face local sensation Golden Sixty, who will be bidding for a 19th career victory.

The 1000 Guineas winner has enjoyed a sterling season, hitting the frame in seven Group Ones, winning two, but she failed to sparkle in the Breeders’ Cup Mile last time out.

Moore said “The race in Del Mar, she drew in the middle and didn’t get away that quickly, the pace was steady and it was impossible to make up ground in that very short straight there.

“She’s been consistent all year. The race on Sunday is very strong with Golden Sixty and a live Japanese contingent. It’s going to be tough for her but she’s got a nice draw, gets a nice weight pull and she usually runs a good race.”

Bolshoi Ballet is another Hong Kong runner for the O'Brien team
Bolshoi Ballet is another Hong Kong runner for the O’Brien team (Brian Lawless/PA)

Bolshoi Ballet is the Ballydoyle representative in the Longines Hong Kong Cup as he drops back to 10 furlongs having finished sixth over a mile and a half in the Breeders’ Cup Turf on his most recent run.

Moore told www.hkjc.com: “He won a Grade One in America at 10 (furlongs) and his two wins at the start of the year were over the 10 furlongs. He’s obviously very happy at that distance. I had high hopes for him and (while) he hasn’t run bad races lately, I would like to have seen a little bit more from him.

“The quick ground will be in his favour and I don’t think Sha Tin will be any problem.”

While Moore is happy with a firm track at Sha Tin, the going is a worry for William Haggas ahead of Dubai Honour’s run in the Hong Kong Cup.

The three-year-old has been on a rapid upward trajectory this term, winning a Newmarket handicap off 93 in July before picking up two Group Two heats in France and being beaten less than a length in the Champion Stakes last time out.

Haggas has not made the trip to Hong Kong and while Dubai Honour’s prep has gone well, the trainer expressed his reservations about the ground.

Dubai Honour (right) has been on a upward curve this year
Dubai Honour (right) has been on a upward curve this year (David Davies/Jockey Club)

He said: “My fear, and I think it’s Tom’s (Marquand, jockey) fear, is the ground.

“Although he ran on and won at Newmarket on fast ground in July, he has run his best three races on soft ground.

“I never thought he had to have soft ground but it’s maybe that he does so if that’s the case it would bring a place Australia into place in 2023.

“But we will see. It’s good. We would love to come back here but let’s get Sunday out of the way first.”

Mac Swiney also lines up for Jim Bolger in the Hong Kong Cup.

Pixie Knight heads a strong Japanese challenge for the Longines Hong Kong Sprint, with last year’s victory Danon Smash, also lining up.

Burrows eyeing Hong Kong Vase option for Hukum

Runaway Cumberland Lodge winner Hukum could be set for a trip overseas with connections considering a tilt at the Hong Kong Vase.

The Shadwell-owned four-year-old trounced his rivals in the Ascot Group Three, starting as favourite and triumphing by six and a half lengths under Jim Crowley.

The run was the culmination of a successful British season that has seen the Owen Burrows-trained colt lift three Group Three prizes and barely go unplaced in seven runs at Listed level or above.

There will be no more outings on home soil this season – but Burrows does have an eye on the Group One Hong Kong Vase, over a mile and a half at Sha Tin racecourse on December 12 for a purse of HK$18million.

“We’ve entered him in Hong Kong for the Vase, there’ll be nothing before that,” Burrows said.

“It’s not a definite, but we’ve stuck him in and we’ll go from there.

“It’s in the middle of December so we’re two months away still, he seems to have taken Ascot very well but it is still some time away, so we’ll see closer to the time.”

Hukum was a Royal Ascot winner in 2020
Hukum was a Royal Ascot winner in 2020 (Megan Ridgwell/PA)

The Hong Kong race is run on turf but conditions are unlikely to be similar to the Ascot’s soft going, something Burrows feels can flatter horses that can perform on it.

“He was visually very impressive (at Ascot) but you always think, when the ground is soft like that, you can be a bit flattered,” he said.

“He’s been a really good horse for us this year, though, and that was a very taking performance.”

Monday Musings: The Mogul Blueprint

Getting up early is more of a bind in these dark winter mornings but there was a point to it yesterday with the multi-million-pound offerings on Hong Kong’s day of the year, writes Tony Stafford. The Vase (mile and a half) and the Cup (ten furlongs) were, as usual, the highlights and, while Magical couldn’t quite get there in the Cup – instead finishing a close and as ever valiant – third, Ryan Moore and Mogul did the business for Aidan O’Brien and Coolmore when turning the Vase into a rout.

The son of Galileo (who else) and the equally-sought-after broodmare Shastaye had three lengths to spare over smart local and odds-on shot, Exultant, a 13-time winner, 11 since leaving Ireland’s shores as a Mick Halford-trained three-year-old.

It is almost uncanny how much Mogul’s career is echoing that of his stable predecessor Highland Reel and there can be little doubt that health and fitness permitting, the former will be the most obvious successor to the latter’s role as a world-wide Group 1-collecting money-machine.

Highland Reel stayed in training for four seasons, winning twice at two and three times at three, culminating in, guess what, a nice win from the previous year’s Andre Fabre-trained winner Flintshire in the 2015 Hong Kong Vase. Two years later he won it again, with a close second in the intervening season. Four campaigns brought him seven wins and easily the highest-ever earnings for a son of Galileo, more than £7.5 million.

Mogul, like Highland Reel, won twice at two, but whereas Highland Reel had already tucked away his three runs – a second and two wins: a maiden and then the Group 2 Vintage Stakes at Glorious Goodwood by the end of July – Mogul didn’t start his career until mid-August; but the pattern was similar. He was second on debut, won a maiden, and then third time out was odds-on and a fluent winner of a Group 2 on the Irish Champion Stakes undercard.

The one divergence from the matching juvenile programmes was that Mogul was lined up for one extra race, the Group 1 Vertem Futurity at Doncaster. In all likelihood that race’s postponement for almost a week because Doncaster had become waterlogged was not in Mogul’s favour. It was switched to the all-weather Tapeta track at Newcastle and Mogul, ridden by Donnacha O’Brien with Moore engaged at the Breeders’ Cup, finished fourth to Kameko. He had been as close as disputing second coming home but got the worst of a three-horse Coolmore photo for that place, behind Innisfree and Year Of The Tiger, two clearly inferior animals.

Neither horse managed to win a Classic. Highland Reel had three goes - a close sixth in the French 2,000 Guineas, second to New Bay in the Prix Du Jockey Club, and fifth to Jack Hobbs in the Irish Derby. So it was a full year without a win when he made his second trip to Glorious Goodwood and collected the Gordon Stakes, another Group 2 en route to a more exhausting test of his temperament for long-haul travelling when landing the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes on the turf at Arlington Park, Chicago. Two more non-wins followed before that first Hong Kong Vase at the end of the year.

Mogul’s Classic aspirations were also just as frustrating. O’Brien admitted not having him anywhere near ready after an early training setback and amidst all the Covid-19 upheavals, when he turned up at Royal Ascot for the King Edward VII Stakes which preceded the delayed-until-July Derby rather than the usual way around. He still seemed a little under-cooked when, as Ryan Moore’s ride at Epsom, he was one of the fast finishers that failed to get anywhere near stablemate Serpentine and the other always-prominent outsiders in that mystifying Classic. After that, in precisely the same way as Highland Reel, much better was to follow.

Mogul, too, went to Goodwood and won a very strong Gordon Stakes and then, after finishing third in the Great Voltigeur at York, as at Ascot behind Pyledriver, he also went overseas (but not as far as Highland Reel) to pick up his first Group 1 in the Grand Prix de Paris. That day he impressively overturned Derby form with Serpentine.

Then followed a modest fifth, three places and two lengths behind Magical when very fast ground and the tight Keeneland track were not ideal, especially after a slow start, in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Yesterday’s exhilarating performance though means he’s probably a few pounds higher in class terms than Highland Reel was at the same stage.

As a full-brother to Japan it was never a shock that Mogul should cost a fortune as a yearling, although 3.4million guineas might have been rather more than the boys expected to pay. When the pair’s full-sister showed up at this year’s Tattersall’s October Book 1 sale, again there would be few possible buyers. Once again M V Magnier put in the closing bid for Coolmore and amazingly for a filly, it matched the price of her illustrious older brother.

As I said at the top, Mogul, with five wins, is a good way along the road to becoming a latter-day clone of Highland Reel, but probably with pretensions to being higher-class. That said, Highland Reel won a Coronation Cup, a King George and a Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, three races of the highest international prestige, along with those overseas victories, so he won’t be easily out-performed. I get the feeling, though, that Mogul is that little bit classier and possibly a more obvious higher-end stallion prospect for the future, so whether he’ll be allowed to go on racing for quite as long might be another question.

It was interesting to hear that Aidan O’Brien would be delighted if the amazing Magical was to be kept in training for yet another year in 2021. She may never have beaten Enable in their multiple tilts on the track over the past three years but she did get a verdict over the 2020 Horse of the Year Ghaiyyath in the Irish Champion Stakes back in September, the only horse to beat the Charlie Appleby star in the calendar year. She is still poised close to £5m in earnings, needing another £125,000 to reach that mark after 12 wins (six at Group 1) and ten second or third places in a 28-race career.

**

There was some high-grade jumping at Cheltenham over the two previous days but it was a source of great irritation that Saturday’s big race, the Unibet International Hurdle, was reduced by three hurdles to only five. This Grade 2 event was widely seen as the first real test of Goshen’s chance of wresting the Champion Hurdle from the mare Epatante since his unfortunate last-flight fall with the Triumph Hurdle at his mercy back in March.

It’s not a secret that in mid-December as if by a fluke the sun happens to make an appearance, that it will be low in the sky by 3 p.m., the time of this race. Bizarrely, there was one more hurdle race run after the Unibet and with the sun by now setting, this had a full complement of hurdles.

In the big race though they had to plot a serpentine route through and between the hurdles and fences, twice down and then twice up a hill. Last time round, a group of nine without only Goshen, who was never travelling or jumping, set off with only a few lengths between them. By now Jamie Moore had already eased off Goshen allowing him to coast past the post.

The winner was yet another for Tom Symonds. The Hereford-based handler’s ex-French gelding Song For Someone maintained his progress to win for the sixth time in 12 starts, with another five placed efforts to boot. There will be worse-value 20-1 shots, his price in Champion Hurdle ante-post lists, than this Flat-bred five-year-old son of Medicean.

Symonds had gone through a lean spell after an initial bright start to his training career. He had 22 winners in the third of his ten seasons, but had got nowhere near that number in the following six campaigns, having previously been joint assistant trainer – with Ben Pauling – to Nicky Henderson.

They were in those roles at the time of the Punjabi/ Binocular rivalry within Seven Barrows: when the two lined up in the 2009 Champion, Tom was on the Punjabi side in opposition to Ben and Corky Brown, the revered head lad, both of whom favoured Binocular. Both sides were to enjoy their Champion Hurdle winner and, overall, even Punjabi’s biggest fans (like who?) will have to admit that Binocular probably shaded it. It’s great that, with 20 wins already and a renaissance since former trainer David Dennis moved across to join forces (and provide additional equine ammunition) with Tom at the start of the season, he’s definitely going places.

There was a feasible explanation after the race for Goshen’s disappointing effort as he was found to have finished with an irregular heartbeat. He won’t be the first horse – Sprinter Sacre for example – to have that medical issue to overcome. While that great chaser was to rise again pretty much back to his absolute best, Gary Moore and Goshen’s owners will always have the thought that any physical weakness in a horse is an extra worry especially with championship races in mind.

- TS