The three arguably best credentialed Hong Kong-trained contenders Mr Stunning, Seasons Bloom and Werther fared ideally at today's barrier draw for Sunday's Longines Hong Kong International Races.
However, it was a case of the barrier blues for two of the world's most successful trainers Aidan O'Brien and Sir Michael Stoute, and also for local training and riding legend Tony Cruz.
Only one of O'Brien's five runners drew inside seven and his two three-year-old Mile contenders Lancaster Bomber and Roly Poly drew 11 and 14 respectively, which O'Brien's travelling head lad Pat Keating described as “Disappointing”.
Stoute's two runners – Smart Call and Poet's Word – drew double figure stalls, while Cruz's hasty departure from the draw ceremony may have spoken to his displeasure with Gold Mount and Beauty Only each drawing gate 12 – presenting a test for Wednesday night's Longines International Jockeys Championship winner Zac Purton.
n contrast, Hong Kong-based jockey Nash Rawiller was delighted to see Mr Stunning, the likely favorite in the Hong Kong Sprint, draw gate four. “If I'd had the chance to choose the barrier then I would have gone for four or five so the four's just perfect,” he said.
Trainer John Moore was similarly pleased with Werther's gate three in the Longines Hong Kong Cup.
“Werther's the flagship horse,” he said. “We wanted three, four or five – when the owner drew three, I couldn't believe it. The owner did a great job drawing gate three, especially with Neorealism drawing the inside and Time Warp in gate five. The pace influences are all around us so they are going to go forward, so we are going to get the gun run. He's got enough gate speed, so he'll be tracking the speed. From our point of view, the draw is perfect.”
Seasons Bloom, one of the major local players in the Mile, came up with gate five, which looks ideal for the horse and champion jockey Joao Moreira.
Trainer Danny Shum said: “That's good, a very good draw, especially when Joao knows the track, he knows the horse, he knows everything. He will be able to have the horse where he is comfortable. I'm excited for Sunday.”
The draw also smiled on Moreira's prospects in the Cup with Japan's Neorealism, on whom he won this year's QEII Cup, being assigned gate one.
While Poet's Word drew awkwardly, widest of the 12 runners in the Cup, his fellow Great Britain representatives Robin Of Navan and Blond Me drew four and 10 respectively, which pleased their trainers. Harry Dunlop, trainer of Robin Of Navan, said: “That's a huge relief, it's a good draw and I'm next to the favorite.”
Blond Me's trainer Andrew Balding was unperturbed his mare drew wide. “That will suit her. I'd much rather that than drawing low,” he said.
The face value of the draw is not always what it seems and trainer Francis Lui had mixed feelings about his outstanding sprinter Lucky Bubbles drawing barrier one in the Sprint. No horse has won the Sprint from gate one at its current 1200m distance.
“Draw one again! We had draw one last start. It's no good,” Lui said in reference to Lucky Bubbles' ninth place in the BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Sprint (1200m), on 19 November, when he was blocked for clear running.
“Although we did have the inside in the G1 last year (behind Chautauqua in the Chairman's Sprint Prize) so it's not horrible. The good draws were already gone so I am glad he got one rather than 11, 12, 13. It was best of what was left. Sure, we will need luck again but every race, you need luck.”
French sprinter Signs Of Blessing, who finished fifth from barrier 13 last year, fared better with gate five this time. “We're very, very happy. Much better than last year. We are next to perhaps the race favourite (Mr Stunning) and it's a stall which enables us to adopt the horse's preferred tactics to go forward.”
Talismanic is another well-favored runner from France, and the Breeders' Cup Turf winner will break from stall one in the Longines Hong Kong Vase (2400m), the same gate from where he produced his international breakthrough performance at Del Mar last month.
Godolphin representative Lisa-Jane Graffard said: “He'll have to take advantage of the draw but he is a very adaptable horse and very easy to place in his races. Andre Fabre arrives tomorrow and once he has had a look at the horse, he will decide tactics with Maxime Guyon.”
Highland Reel, third behind Talismanic at Del Mar, drew eight – one inside the gate from which he won the race in 2015. “I'd have preferred Highland Reel to be four to six but eight's okay. The Cup draws are fine for Deauville and War Decree,” Keating said.
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