For connections of Tiberian, the joys of an international campaign which has already taken in the G1 Emirates Melbourne Cup (3200m) and will continue in Sunday's G1 Longines Hong Kong Vase (2400m), come as another bonus chapter to an already unlikely story.
The 5-year-old was bred by Haras du Logis supremo Julian Ince and his long-time friends and partners, Heiko Volz and Stefan Falk, using the services of Logis teaser stallion Tiberius Caesar.
For those not immersed in the minutiae of the breeding game, a teaser is essentially used to check that a mare is ready to be covered by the stallion before honourably stepping aside.
For a top-class stallion that is visited by 100-plus mares in a season a return of one or two champions is considered a success.
Tiberius Caesar has only been allowed the very occasional chance to go through with the cover and had precisely four racing age products at the start of 2017, all of which means the statistical chances of breeding a winner, let alone an international Group 1-calibre campaigner, were bordering on astronomical.
The fact that Tiberius Caesar is also responsible for Yellow Storm – who like Tiberian is trained by Alain Couetil and who was deemed worthy of lining up in the G1 Prix de Diane last June – would appear to defy not only the laws of probability but many of the fundamentals which underpin the stallion-making business.
After a near-flawless season in France which yielded four victories – including a pair of verdicts back in the spring over Vase rival and Breeders' Cup Turf (2400m) winner Talismanic – Tiberian was sent to Melbourne to race on behalf of his intrepid band of owner/breeders in partnership with Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock, who took a 50 per cent stake in the horse.
Seventh place in the Cup was arguably poor reward after Olivier Peslier made an eye-catching move down Flemington's long back straight in an effort to combat an unkind draw in 22 of 23.
Watching Tiberian pound down the Sha Tin all-weather track on Monday morning, Couetil was philosophical about that experience, a first for the handler and his storied jockey.
“Of course there are some regrets but he didn't run all that badly in the Melbourne Cup,” says Couetil. “He didn't get the ideal trip and had to use up quite a bit of energy in the back straight. He ran well to the turn and then stayed on.”
Couetil is a relative newcomer to the international racing circuit but has built a reputation as a shrewd operator in France from his base at Senonnes, three hours west of Paris.
Having been assistant trainer to none other than Andre Fabre, Couetil is certainly a man you want in your corner when it comes to having a horse peak for one big day. And the trainer is pleased with what Tiberian showed him on his first visit to the Sha Tin track on Monday.
“He has settled in very well here and seems very well in himself,” said Couetil, who hadn't seen Tiberian in the flesh since departing Melbourne several days after the Cup. “We won't do a great deal with him this week but he will work on the turf tomorrow (Tuesday). He got a feel of the grass on Saturday and he was very easy and relaxed like he always is.”
If recent history is any guide, then a French-trained horse stepping back down in trip from the Melbourne Cup to the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase should command plenty of respect. 2010 Flemington hero Americain ran third to Mastery at Sha Tin, while 12 months later Dunaden completed the double.
“I expect there will be more pace on here [than in Australia] and he can make the running or drop in, he is flexible like that,” says Couetil. “The 3,200 metres might just be le bout du monde (the limit of his stamina) and 2,400 metres suits him well. He is in great form and may well have progressed because he hadn't run for nine weeks before the Melbourne Cup, whereas we're coming in off a month here which is a much more suitable period between races.”
While Couetil is spreading his international wings for the first time with Tiberian, it was something of a shock to discover that the vastly experienced Olivier Peslier had never ridden in Australia until the Saturday before the Melbourne Cup.
But the man the French press routinely refer to as “Magic Peslier” has almost nothing but good memories of the Hong Kong International Races and boasts a record of seven wins from just 33 starts across the four contests.
Victory aboard Tiberian would bridge a gap of eight years back to Peslier's most recent success, his win in the Cup aboard Vision D'Etat for another western-based trainer in Eric Libaud.
Perhaps more importantly, it would put the 44-year-old in a tie with compatriot Gerald Mosse for the all-time most LONGINES HKIR wins.
For Couetil and his adventurous owner/breeders, this Group 1 mission could hardly be in safer hands.
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