Controversial owner John Yuen Se-kit has provided the first shock of the new racing season, admitting that his champion Good Ba Ba will be removed from the stables of trainer Andreas Schutz Aug. 10.
The new trainer selected by Yuen is Derek Cruz, who confirmed that Hong Kong’s highest-rated horse of all time will join his string.
"The owner rang me, out of the blue, and asked me to train Good Ba Ba this season," Cruz explained. "It was a very big surprise, for sure, but I’m extremely happy to be given an opportunity to train a wonderful horse like this.
"Of course, it’s unfortunate for the previous trainer but that’s Hong Kong racing — we all get to experience both sides of it. Mr Yuen could have chosen any trainer at Sha Tin, and I’m grateful he’s chosen me. An offer like this is not something you can say no to."
Schutz is currently on holidays in his native Germany and could not be contacted. His assistant trainer, Ricky Chung Chim-ki, knew nothing about the proposed move of the stable’s flagship racehorse.
"The boss is away until the middle of August, I don’t know anything about this," Chung said, through an interpreter. Chung later confirmed the story after telephoning owner Yuen.
The sacking of Schutz is the second major personnel change in the space of eight months for Good Ba Ba, winner of six group I races including the last two editions of the HK$16 million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile.
Last December, jockey Olivier Doleuze was replaced by Christophe Soumillon after Good Ba Ba finished third to Egyptian Ra in the Cathay Pacific International Mile Trial (HK-II).
Yuen, when contacted Aug. 7, refused to elaborate on the reasons for the stable transfer, other than confirming that it would take place. However a family friend, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Yuen is an advocate of Feng Shui and believes "all his good luck with Schutz may have been used up."
Schutz, the former champion trainer of Germany, took over Good Ba Ba in November 2006, when he was only two months into his freshman Hong Kong season. He won with the American-bred gelding at his first three starts for his new yard, including the group II Chairman’s Trophy at Sha Tin.
The following season, Good Ba Ba had six domestic races for five wins and a second, becoming the first horse to clean sweep the major mile races. He also defeated champion sprinter Sacred Kingdom at their highly publicized match race in the group I Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup at 1,400 meters in March 2008.
He was Horse of the Year for 2007-08. After winning the second of successive Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile events last December, the international handicappers elevated Good Ba Ba to an official rating of 124, making him the highest-rated Hong Kong galloper of all time and a member of the top 10 horses on the planet at that time.
After winning a second Citi Stewards’ Cup (HK-I) at 1,600 meters in January, Good Ba Ba was beaten in two more races before being rested. His final run, a close-up fourth to Sight Winner in the Champions Mile (HK-I), was due simply to the rain-softened track, which jockey Soumillon said did not suit him.
Yuen has a colorful history in racing. According to the Jockey Club database, Yuen has raced three horses, the first being Dr Win in 1999-2000. After six winless starts with Ricky Yiu Poon-fie, Dr Win was moved to Tony Millard and won two races for the South African trainer.
His second horse, Run And Win, started with Millard but was moved to Wiley Wong Wai-lit after three starts. The gray then had four starts with Manfred Man Ka-leung, moved to John Size for three outings and then returned to Man for four more runs before leaving him for the second time at the end of that season. Run And Win then had a full season with Brian Kan Ping-chee before moving to Peter Ho Leung and, finally, went back to the future to Millard — a total of eight trainer moves in a 46-start career.
It was Millard who selected Good Ba Ba for Yuen at the Hong Kong International Sale, after Run And Win retired. However, he only got to enjoy being the gelding’s pre-trainer when the future champion moved to Alex Wong Yu-on prior to his debut. Wong took him all the way through to Class One, picking up the Champion Griffin award along the way, before losing him to Schutz in late 2006.
The Lear Fan gelding’s full record is 15 wins, five seconds and two thirds from just 23 starts, and his earnings of HK$48,161,500 make him the fifth-best prizemoney winner among Hong Kong-trained horses, behind only Vengeance of Rain, Viva Pataca, Silent Witness and Bullish Luck. For Schutz, he won 10 of 16 starts domestic starts, plus two unplaced runs in the 2007 and 2008 editions of the Yasuda Kinen in Tokyo.