By Bob Kieckhefer
Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms may have taken the worst of things in the Dec. 7 barrier draw for the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races.
With a horse in each of the four group I races on Dec. 11 comprising the self-styled “World Turf Championships,” Juddmonte runners drew three No. 12 stalls. Only in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup, with a field of just 10, did the famous pink, green and white colors draw further inside as Byword got the No. 6 stall.
Redwood will start No. 12 in the 2,400-meter Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase, Bated Breath got the same stall in the 1,600-meter Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint, and Cityscape suffered the same ill luck in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile.
Roger Charlton, who trains Bated Breath and Cityscape for Juddmonte, lamented, “I can’t believe it. Up first in both races and I draw 12 both times. What are the chances of that?”
Starting stalls for the Vase may be of minimal importance with a long run down the straight before the first right-handed turn. The race frequently develops as a waiting game with riders looking for position until the final turn, then asking their mounts for one run of just over 400 meters to the finish.
A well-balanced field representing five countries will contest the Vase, including the 1-2 finishers in last month’s Melbourne Cup (Aus-I) – Dunaden and Red Cadeaux. Also up is Godolphin’s only runner of the day, Campanologist, who will try to make it two straight for Sheikh Mohammed’s operation after Mastery’s win in the same race last December. French-based filly Sarah Lynx, upset winner of the Canadian International (Can-IT) at Woodbine, will try to shake off her subsequent 12th-place finish in the Japan Cup (Jap-I).
Redwood was second in the 2010 Vase and second then in the Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) but has struggled since then. His trainer, Charles Hills, said because of the distance of ground, “I am not sure that the draw matters as much as luck in running. That draw should be no problem because he can be a bit slow away anyway.”
Early position can be much more important in the Sprint, with a short run to the turn and 14 horses looking for position.
Rocket Man, who likes the lead, will have to rocket from the 13 gate if he hopes to avenge his agonizing loss to J J the Jet Plane in last year’s renewal. Rocket Man’s trainer, Patrick Shaw, said 13 is “not the gate we would have wanted, obviously. But he’ll go forward from there because that’s what he does. I won’t say I’m not fazed by the draw, but what can you do?”
Juddmonte’s Bated Breath also normally runs near the lead so there could be a scramble from the outside to clear the field in the first few hundred meters. Charlton pointed out Bated Breath also was drawn No. 12 when finishing second in his last start, the Nearctic Stakes (Can-I) at Woodbine “and nearly overcame that. So we’ll just have to see what happens.”
Top local hopeful Sacred Kingdom, third in 2010, likes to come from off the pace and likely will have to do that from the far outside starting post. Trainer Ricky Yiu confessed to being “a little bit disappointed … but what can you do? We will possibly drop him in anyway. He’s fresh and well so we’ll see on Sunday.”
The Mile also provides a long run before the bend, giving options from any starting position.
Cityscape, perhaps Juddmonte’s best chance of the four, normally races held up and should have an opportunity to find position for a late run. He raced against some of Europe’s top milers this summer and got a confidence-builder in winning the Prix Perth (Fr-III) at Saint-Cloud in his last outing.
Hong Kong runners have won the last five editions of the Mile and the locals again field a strong team, including last year’s winner, Beauty Flash, and Xtension, winner of the BMW Champions Mile (HK-I) at Sha Tin in the spring. A late runner, Xtension is well-drawn in stall No. 5. Beauty Flash goes from gate 10. New Zealand-based Jimmy Choux will need to have his running shoes on while leaving from the No. 2 post.
This year’s running of the Cup may see a bit more pace than normal with speed on the agenda for three of the starters--France’s best hope, Cirrus des Aigles, Germany’s Durban Thunder and British runner Ransom Note. If those three gun for the front, the remaining seven starters could find it easier to drop into position during the 300 meters before the first of two turns.
Cirrus des Aigles, victor over So You Think in the Champion Stakes (Eng-I) at Ascot, got post No. 2 so jockey Christophe Soumillon should have a clear path. Ransom Note will start from No. 4 and Durban Thunder from No. 7.
The Cup has not been won by a Hong Kong horse since Vengeance of Rain turned the trick in 2005 and the locals are looking to reverse that trend with the impressive pair of Ambitious Dragon and California Memory. Ambitious Dragon, a 5-year-old New Zealand-bred, won the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup (HK-I) last spring, narrowly defeating California Memory.
Douglas Whyte, who will pilot Ambitious Dragon, said No. 5 is a “perfect draw and from there I’ll have options. I’ll go home and do a little more work on the race but I doubt that I’d ride him forward. I’m happy for him to settle and make use of his great turn of foot.”