Luca Cumani, the man who trained the greatest performer in the history of Hong Kong horseracing, is back in town taking aim at the HK$14 million Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup April 26 with Presvis. There’s a growing belief that he will do it.
Cumani already has four major Asian Cup trophies on the mantelpiece at home in Newmarket -- his unforgettable 2003 Hong Kong Cup with Falbrav, a Singapore Airlines International Cup with Endless Hall and two Japan Cups (Falbrav, Alkaased). No trainer in the world can boast anything close to that.
Charlie Henson, assistant trainer to Cumani, was buzzing after Presvis had completed some light exercise on the sand on April 23 and the horseman was in similar mind after Presvis went smoothly at his first try on the turf on the morning of April 24.
"He's improved and improved and seems to me to be in grand form since arriving from Dubai,” Henson said. “Not only is he really relaxed but just take a look at his hindquarters; they have really developed and muscled up in the last few months."
Henson was the center of attention for a second reason at Sha Tin when tracks manager Pako Ip Pak-chung noted him walking down the main grass strip, prodding Ip’s beloved racecourse with a “going stick”.
“The boss rang and wanted to know exactly what the ground would be like,” Henson said, with Cumani apparently concerned at reports of unsettled spring weather around Hong Kong.
Mark Player, the Jockey Club’s manager for international racing, stepped in to allay any fears. “Tell Luca he has nothing to worry about, the going will almost certainly be good to firm,” he stressed to Henson.
Presvis has an outstanding record since ever since he was stepped up to the QE-II distance of 2,000 meters last July. He won a handicap at Sandown by nine lengths and then racked up three wins and three seconds from his next six.
And at his latest run, he defied the pattern in the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I), coming from last in a leader-dominated race to finish second to Gladiatorus. While the winner busted his rivals with a relentless gallop, Presvis wove his way through the field and flew home, registering a blistering the final 400 meters in 22.62 seconds and pulling around 14 lengths off Gladiatorus.
Cumani is certainly due for a change of luck in international group ones. He’s had the runner-up in the last two Melbourne Cups with Purple Moon and Bauer, second in the Hong Kong Vase in December with Purple Moon, who was also beaten just two noses in the Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) on March 28. All that besides Presvis’s second to Gladiatorus.
Cumani does not arrive until April 25 but, speaking by telephone from England, he explained the son of former champion Sakhee has been a slow maturer.
“I bought him as a yearling and he was slow to develop, but I didn’t imagine he’d be a four-year-old before he saw a racecourse,” Cumani began. “He just had niggling problems on and off, but he’d shown me enough to suggest that he had something about him, and to be patient. Fortunately he had a very patient owner as well.”
Presvis was one of the successes of the 2009 Dubai Carnival winning two more turf handicaps there under Ryan Moore, and continuing his march up the handicap ratings. Then came the big test in the Dubai Duty Free on World Cup night.
“His runs in the handicaps didn’t surprise me too much; he was entitled to run well in them. But his performance against the group one horses in the Duty Free did,” the trainer admitted. “When he was drawn widest of all in 16, I was disappointed to say the least. We didn’t know if he belonged in that company, but he showed that he did. He ran a terrific race in the circumstances and made up a lot of ground in the straight.”
Henson says he can’t fault the visitor’s progress. “He had his final piece of work in Dubai on (April 18) and that’s why he has done so little since he’s been here because he did all his training at Nad al Sheba. He’s thrived since he’s left England, really enjoyed the sunshine and the warmer weather, and we’re really looking forward to Sunday.”