The rain came to Nakayama Racecourse yesterday, but when trainer Michael Chang arrived to watch Rich Tapestry undertake a light jog this morning (Saturday, 3 October) ahead of Sunday’s G1 Sprinters Stakes he found a turf track still on the firm side.
“Firmer than I hoped,” he said, as he dug his heel down below the thick mass of verdant blades. His tone was that of disbelief. “Even though there was heavy rain yesterday, it’s still firm.”
Chang had hoped the previous day’s rainfall, the last expected before Sunday’s test, would have taken the sting out of the fast Nakayama surface, an outcome that he felt would have aided his dirt-track specialist. Now, having accepted the reality, he was examining the positives.
“It’s easier away from the rail,” he said. “The strip down the rail is a little bit firmer. I’ll talk to the jockey (Christophe Lemaire) – maybe he can switch him off the fence in the straight.”
That is a potentially awkward task given Rich Tapestry’s draw in gate one, up against the paint. A cursory look at the draw statistics shows that since 1990 only one horse has succeeded from gate one, although it should be noted that barriers two, three, six and nine have returned no winners at all in that period. Chang was candid this morning about what that lowest of berths might mean for Rich Tapestry.
“I think the draw is a little bit tricky,” he observed. “Barrier one over 1200m is not ideal – in Japanese racing they always go hard so I’ll have to ask the jockey to put him forward. We’ll try to get him out quickly, stick to the rail and try to let the outside horses come across so we can take the box seat. Then we have to ride for luck from there. Our options are limited from that barrier but I hope it can work to our advantage in this way.”
Nakayama’s right-handed turn into the straight sweeps sharply down from a crest before the runners hit the base of a rise just before the furlong mark. Chang does not see that dip and incline as an issue for Rich Tapestry.
“Christophe said to me that he changed legs and was well-balanced in his gallop on Thursday, so that will be no problem,” said Chang. “It’s only a short straight, 310 metres, and with the climb to the finish that will hopefully mean anything in front of him is not going to kick away very easily – it will give him a chance.”
As for the seven-year-old’s exercise this morning, Chang was content. Last year’s G1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (1200m, dirt) hero stepped onto the dirt at around 6.15am, the early sunlight glancing off his bay coat. Rich Tapestry went two laps at a slow canter under work rider Justine Clark before heading back to stables. All routine: all easy.
“He looks well, he’s very relaxed,” said Chang. “But that’s him, he’s always the same, wherever we’ve taken him he’s been the same – he looks after himself.”
As for the opposition on Sunday, the trainer is taking positives from the fact that there is no standout in the field, as he sees it. Chang is confident that if lady luck smiles on his stable star, connections will be taking some Yen back to Hong Kong.
“There is no superstar Group 1 horse in the race, not many outstanding, so on his best turf form he has a chance,” he said. “I think if everything goes right for him he can finish first four. I wouldn’t say he has a strong winning chance, but first four yes. The horse is well – now we keep our fingers crossed and see how things work out.”
Rich Tapestry will aim to become the third Hong Kong-trained winner of the Sprinters Stakes after the great Silent Witness (2005) and Ultra Fantasy (2010). The last seven-year-old to win the race was the Australian globe-trotter Takeover Target in 2006.
Hong Kong’s raider will face 14 rivals, including the talented filly Bel Canto, the mount of Yutaka Take, the crack mares Uliuli and Straight Girl, second and fourth in the G2 Centaur Stakes last start, and that race’s all-the-way victor, the three-year-old colt Active Minoru.