Hong Kong Diary

Ahead of Sunday morning's top-class FWD Hong Kong Champions Day meeting - live on Sky Sports Racing - Graham Cunningham tees up a card featuring three Group 1 contests, with the biggest local names, both equine and human, all on show.

  • Saturday 25 April
  • Blog
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Recent history shows that some Brits tend to be slower than most to embrace concepts from abroad.

No matter, with luck and some hard graft from those in charge, those who prefer their racing wrapped in a Union Jack will have their favourite pastime back before too long, albeit in a Behind-Closed-Doors (BCD) format that has kept Hong Kong racing afloat over the last three months.

The proposed model involving maximum fields of 12 with star riders given precedence might have been ripped straight from the Happy Valley playbook, but spectator-free Sha Tin takes centre stage this Sunday for a Champions Day card with three Group 1s worth £6m that are live on Sky Sports Racing and well worth a slice of your lockdown time.

Little of this will be visible from the TV feed but anyone entering Hong Kong's protected racing bubble this weekend will have gone through more checks than for the average surgical procedure.

Temperature tests, medical masks and health declarations remain mandatory, along with stringent social distancing. All this in a city of 7.5m people with just four deaths from a thousand cases, though Sunday's "crowd" will be one man down after a certain scribe with a northern accent was advised to work from home because some poor soul in his apartment block tested positive.

Time will tell whether Britain and Ireland can replicate such detailed safeguards once racing returns but Sunday's showcase will, if nothing else, present international viewers with a useful glimpse of the future as racing the world over prepares to morph into a made-for-TV medium.

The feature events will also provide plenty to chew on for those who enjoy seeing how British and Irish imports are faring. Former Tom Dascombe sprinter Big Time Baby has thrived in Hong Kong since winning York's Roses Stakes under Frankie Dettori in 2016 and lines up for the Chairman's Sprint Prize (7.50am) after arriving in Dubai just as Meydan management were pulling the plug on World Cup night. 

Waikuku (John Oxx), Ka Ying Star (Urban Aspect for Andrew Balding) and former Richard Fahey juvenile More Than This will do their best to topple Hong Kong's master miler Beauty Generation in the Champions Mile (9.00am).

And the QEII Cup, previously won by Euro stars like Jim And Tonic and Presvis, sees Exultant (Irishcorrespondent for Michael Halford) bidding to wear down mercurial former Sir Mark Prescott front-runner Time Warp along with another Halford import in Playa Del Puente and ex-Ed Walker gelding Glorious Dragon (Stephensons Rocket).

As a compelling subplot there is also an intense title battle brewing and the Federer and Djokovic of Hong Kong racing - namely Joao Moreira and Zac Purton - will be aiming to serve aces in all three Group 1s.

Moreira fits the Roger role neatly, making the brilliant look routine without breaking sweat, but precision operator Purton showed Djoko-style resilience to prevail in an epic title battle two years ago and the pair square off again with the Brazilian just one ahead (104-103) for a combined total of almost £30m in prize money this season alone. 

Clearly, neither Joao or Zac are living with the gas turned down as they dominate a circuit with the sort of prize money Britain can only dream of but they will need to ride well into their 40s to get within hailing distance of Hong Kong training legend John Moore, whose horses have collected an eye-watering £200m since he took over from his Derby and Arc-winning father George in 1985.

The charismatic Moore will be heading home to Australia this summer having reached the HKJC retirement age of 70 and it's no secret that the only man capable of rocking a Safari suit better than the late Roger Moore would have preferred to stick around given the chance.

Moore has collected 17 of the Champions Day features during his stellar career and will be eyeing at least two more on Sunday, starting with Aethero in the Chairman's Sprint Prize. The hulking chestnut could pass for a young Denman in appearance and has flashed brilliance and recklessness this term, most recently when blowing the start then pulling like a mustang on his latest appearance.

The admirable Hot King Prawn - a son of the Aussie version of Denman - will take full advantage if the impetuous version of Aethero rocks up again but Moore wheels out his old warhorse in the Champions Mile and Beauty Generation's iron constitution will be a big asset as he stakes a claim for a third consecutive Hong Kong Horse of the Year title.

Exultant and Purton were caught flat footed when Moreira cuddled Time Warp through a pedestrian first 6f in the Hong Kong Gold Cup in February but trainer Tony Cruz isn't expecting a repeat and the Teofilo gelding - who has racked up nine wins and £5m since chasing home Churchill and Thunder Snow in the 2017 Irish 2000 Guineas - should confirm himself an elite Group 1 performer by going one better than last year. 

And so, set the alarm for a high-class card that that will act as a perfect taster for what's to come once Euro authorities reschedule big races with the paying public locked out. With so much at stake, you would like to think the BHA might have consulted HKJC about how best to go behind closed doors racing. But you wouldn't bank on it. After all, Britain has form when it comes to being wary about TAFF (Taking Advice From Foreigners).

Hong Kong Diary
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