By Bob Kieckhefer
The normal home-field advantage enjoyed by local horses in the Hong Kong International Races may be at risk Dec. 9—because of changes in the home field.
Or it could be a smoke screen to lull overseas invaders into a false sense of security.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club, as part of an ongoing and extensive renovation program, is upgrading the stable area at Sha Tin Racecourse—the site of the SAR's major race days. John Moore, who has 11 horses in Sunday's international group I events, is among the locals caught in the switches as horses shuffle from barn to barn.
It's not a minor issue, either. Whether by sheer force or numbers, quality of runners, familiarity with the racing surface, or freedom from the rigors of travel, Hong Kong horses have dominated this competition since its inception.
Local horses have been victorious in 10 of the 13 editions of the Longines Hong Kong Sprint (HK-I) and have taken nine of the last 10. The only break in that string was 2010 when the exceptional J J the Jet Plane, from South Africa, defeated Singapore's Rocket Man by a nose. Both of those horses came back the following March to win the sprint events on Dubai World Cup night at Meydan. And even in that 2010 edition of the Hong Kong Sprint, a local horse, Sacred Kingdom, finished third.
Recent runnings of the Longines Hong Kong Mile (HK-I) show a similar pattern. After taking a while to hit their stride, Hong Kong trainers have sent out the winners of eight of the last 10 Miles and the last six in a row.
The 2,000-meter Longines Hong Kong Cup (HK-I) and the Longines Hong Kong Vase (HK-I), have been friendlier to foreigners. The Vase, in particular, has been a challenge for the locals as they seldom run that distance. And in the Cup, even when not winning, the Hong Kong contingent usually has at least one runner in the top three placings.
Moore has four entered in this year's Sprint, three in the Mile, and four more in the Cup--but none in the Vase. Perhaps his best chance, defending Sprint champion Lucky Nine, was drawn in the outside gate in a field of 12, leading Moore to lament, "He'll have his work cut out for him."
Of greater concern to the trainer—at least earlier in the week—was his move to new stable quarters. He was required to move his string from their old barn to the new one just over two weeks before the big races and said he feared the confusion and new surroundings would negate any potential advantage over the international shippers.
The trainer emphasized the HKJC has gone to great lengths to minimize the disruption and work with trainers throughout the renovation. But, he said, his concerns remain.
"They're animals, and when they change their homes, they tend to fret," Moore told the South China Morning Post. "And they can fret for quite a while. And when they fret, they don't eat."
"Just moving that 500 meters can mean the difference between a horse holding his condition and losing his condition. And if he does lose his condition, then his form is gone," Moore added.
Later in the week, he reported his stakes horses have been showing signs of returning to their normal, happy state. And a random sampling of foreign trainers indicated they think Moore is well suited to wave the Hong Kong banner with honor on Sunday, move or no move.