It may take until April for it to happen, but there is some serious international competition taking aim at Good Ba Ba’s vice-like grip on Hong Kong’s major mile races.
Ross McDonald, trainer of brilliant Australian galloper Weekend Hussler, has announced a sweeping international agenda for the seven-time group I winner early next year in which he aims to become the first horse to tackle all four legs of the Asian Mile Challenge (AMC).
McDonald’s imagination has been fired by the lucrative series, with its huge prizemoney and bonuses, together with the pleasant fact that the first leg of the series, the Melbourne Racing Club’s Futurity Stakes, takes place on his home course at Caulfield where Weekend Hussler has won four races.
"There is a (US)$2-million bonus if he can win three legs of the Asian Mile series and he would probably pick up about (US)$10 million in total if he can win the four races we are targeting," McDonald said.
The second leg of the AMC is the $5-million Dubai Duty Free on World Cup night, March 28, while the third leg is the (HK)$12 million Champions Mile at Sha Tin on April 26. The caravan then moves on to Tokyo for the Yasuda Kinen on June 7.
Good Ba Ba won the Champions Mile this year but failed to take his A game to Tokyo and finished down the track behind Japan’s star filly Vodka and Hong Kong’s Armada, which he had soundly beaten in the Champions Mile at their previous encounter.
Weekend Hussler has won 12 of his 17 starts --- seven of them at group I level --- and earned more than HK$15 million in prizemoney. He was Australia’s Horse of the Year for season 2007-08, while Good Ba Ba won the corresponding award here.
McDonald has Weekend Hussler back in work at Caulfield ahead of his ambitious international campaign.
"The idea of heading overseas was tossed around earlier in the year, so it has been more than 12 months of planning and organisation,” McDonald continued. "We realized that this was probably the best year to do it. He will be at his peak so we thought we will give it a shot --- you can't just go over there as an afterthought.”
Weekend Hussler will resume in the group I Australia Stakes at Moonee Valley on Feb. 14 before contesting the first leg of the AMC, the Futurity Stakes over 1,600 metres at Caulfield on Feb. 28.
Meanwhile, Good Ba Ba simply cruised at Sha Tin Nov. 20 in his final gallop in preparation for tomorrow’s HK$3 million Cathay Pacific International Mile Trial at Sha Tin. Ridden by assistant trainer Ricky Chung Chim-ki, Good Ba Ba ran 800 meters (half-mile) on the all-weather track in :53.3 seconds, the final 400 meters (quarter-mile) in :24.9 seconds.
Good Ba Ba is the only horse ever to achieve a grand slam of Hong Kong’s four major mile races in the one season and the 2007 Mile Trial is where it all began for John Yuen Se-kit’s colour bearer.
Although Good Ba Ba was beaten into sixth place first-up in the Sha Tin Trophy on October 26, trainer Andreas Schutz believes the progress he’s made in the last four weeks has been substantial.
“He’s come on very well since the last run and he’s had two solid gallops since, with one more to come tomorrow morning [Friday],”Schutz said. “Looking at him, I’d say we have him in pretty much the same condition as at this time last year. That’s not quite at the same peak as we had him for the Hong Kong Mile, but that race is still three weeks away. But comparing him to the way he was prior to the Mile Trial [last year], in my judgment he’s the same.”