It’s all about Sha Tin racecourse in Hong Kong this weekend on what is the richest day’s Flat turf racing of the season. It’s a fantastic right-handed track – a bit like Ascot – and the draw can make or break you.
I had two stints there when I was riding – for a month initially and then I went back for three more. It was a wonderful experience and the locals are racing mad.
It’s unbelievable. Jockeys and trainers are treated like Premier League footballers with press conferences after morning work and there are loads of newspapers that just cover horse racing.
Make no mistake though – it’s a pressure-cooker atmosphere. There’s no slacking off and every horse has to be ridden to the line as the prize money for even the placed horses is phenomenal.
The stands are always packed with 40,000 and more at the meetings and the locals are very knowledgeable and big into the betting. They believe in ‘lucky’ jockeys and will try to latch onto any new international jockeys to see who’ll be lucky for them.
You have to hit the ground running and can go from hero to zero very quickly if your ‘luck’ – and theirs – is out. If you don’t ride a winner there in your first two or three meetings – you’re toast.
Vive la France!
The French-trained horses always seem to do better than UK or Irish-trained runners at this meeting and that has a lot to do with the racing calendar.
They tend to take a break during the summer when the Irish & UK runners are still hard at it – saving themselves for Autumn campaigns so they’re fresher coming into this year-end extravaganza.
It’s an Australian style of racing. They jump out quick, go fast until they get their positions, work to hold it, then kick on again in the straight and the run to the line.
While the Europeans may have the ‘better’ horses the others do a lot of work off speed charts and sectional times in their domestic racing and the Europeans need to adapt their game-plan.
There’s only split-seconds to get to grips with how a race will pan out when the barriers fly open.
Group 1 Hong Kong Vase, Sunday 6am
Flintshire is a horse you’d love to have in your stable. He’s so consistent, finished runner-up again in the Prix de l’arc de Triomphe no his latest start in October and won this race last year.
Compatriot Cirrus Des Aigles will probably find the ground too fast. Even if there’s rain forecast the track drains so well there has to be rain on the day for conditions to turn soft while the three-year-old Dariyan is lightly-raced and could improve.
There’s a couple of Irish and English challengers with Aidan O’Brien’s Highland Reel who was third in the Cox Palte in Australia in October and Michael Stoute’s Cannock Chase.
He has a chance after winning the Canadian International but the draw has done him no favours out widest in stall 13.
Pat Smullen will only have about three furlongs to get across from that wide draw before they reach the first bend – but that’s doable over this 1m 4f trip. If he can get over early, he could get into a challenging position before the straight and that will make life easier.
But I’ll take the Europeans to dominate this with Flintshire leading home Dariyan and Ballydoyle’s Highland Reel.
Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint 6f 6.40am
I rode Sole Power into second here in 2013 but I’m not sure the trip or the way this race will unfold will really suit him.
They go fast, they steady and they fly again. Ideally he wants a fast-run straight 5f where he can use his natural speed to pick off the leaders when they tire. A 6f sprint around a bend just mightn’t play to his strengths.
He’s getting older though so he may settle a bit better but could really have done with being drawn one to five rather than in box eight while Peniaphobia has been drawn high in 14 for Tony Cruz and Jaoa Moreira and that’s a tough gig over 6f here as being widest at the bend won’t help.
The Irish-bred Gold-Fun – a three-time Grade One winner and big-race favourite – looks the one to beat but I’d expect Straight Girl, who has good form in Japan, to also run well.
Group One Hong Kong Mile 7.50am
Able Friend is a superstar on this side of the world but disappointed a little at Royal Ascot when outside his comfort zone while Esoterique disappointed at the Breeders’ Cup but is nicely housed in stall three. She could run big if bouncing back to the form that saw her win the Group One Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket in October.
But Ryan Moore rides Maurice and I’ll side with this two-time Japanese Grade One winner to cause an upset to the home-town favourite.
Group One Hong Kong Cup, 1m 2f, 8.30am
There’s doesn’t appear to be an outstanding contender this year and Free Eagle is the highest rated runner in the field. Dermot Weld’s colt can go very close if coping with the conditions.
Being drawn in stall nine is a slight issue as you’re only about 100 yards to the first bend over this 10f trip so I’d expect Pat Smullen to get across sharpish and sit up with the pace in the front four.
Touch of Class
The Irish runner comes here relatively fresh and was a slightly unlucky sixth when meeting interference in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe but this 10f trip will suit him better. He gave Golden Horn a fright at Leopardstown in the Irish Champion Stakes before the collision there ruined his chance of winning.
Last year’s winner Designs on Rome is in stall six while the runner-up Military Attack is another high-class ‘local’ horse and beat Blazing Speed in a Grade Two contest at this track last month.
Free Eagle has a touch of class and should go very close if he can combat the draw and get a nice position to make his challenge.
Friday night’s opener at Dundalk on the all weather sees Victoria’s Secret won for us a couple weeks turn out again but she’ll have to step up again in the opener on Friday night where Go Kart is the top-rated runner in the field.
But Harry Dunlop sends over Kashtan from the UK and with Kevin Manning booked could get her head in front in the opener.
I’ve two runners on the card with Tagg’s Island and Zylan and I’d be hopeful that they’ll be competitive and can run into the places in their respective contests.
Later on the 8.30pm is a good race and a few of these will be getting ready for Meydan next year. Togoville has been very consistent all year and even though he has plenty of weight should be thereabouts at the business end and could have most to fear from David Marnane’s stable companions Seanie and Jamesie.