By Steve Moran
A surface scan of the history of the Champions Mile does not bode well for the prospects of Convey and Stormy Antarctic, who represent Great Britain, in Sunday’s HK$16 million Group 1.
After all, no horse from that part of world or indeed from Europe has won the race. But if we mine a little deeper there is the tiniest nugget of gold revealed which may be no more than a coincidental curiosity but, nonetheless, could offer a historical hint of hope for the overseas challengers.
Since 2005, when the race was opened to international runners, the majority of UK and European challengers have come via Dubai and only one horse from Britain has contested the race with a profile bearing any similarity to that of Convey or Stormy Antarctic.
That horse was the Andrew Balding-trained Vanderlin who, despite being completely ignored by local punters at 138/1, ran very well when beaten 2.5 lengths into 5th place behind Bullish Luck in a field of 13 in 2006.
Vanderlin had dead-heated for first in the Listed Doncaster Mile - the same race in which the Ed Walker-trained Stormy Antarctic finished a short-head second this year - immediately before coming to Hong Kong.
The twist is, in 2006, the Doncaster Mile was transferred to the all-weather track at Lingfield with the Doncaster racecourse being redeveloped. Hence the tie-in also with the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Convey, whose past two wins have come on the Lingfield Polytrack.
That may well be a tenuous link but there are other factors which suggest it might be unwise to summarily dismiss the British challenge in 2017.
After all, Convey’s master trainer has twice won major races in Hong Kong; most notably the 2000 G1 Hong Kong Vase with Daliapour who was purchased by Robert Ng, who owns Convey, shortly before the race.
Not to mention that champion jockey Ryan Moore, who rode Convey to win the All-Weather Middle Distance Championships at his latest run on 14 April, spoke glowingly of the horse immediately after that win, referring to him as a ‘group horse in my opinion’ and one that ‘we’ve always held in high regard’.
The five-year-old was gelded after being unplaced at Redcar last October and is, of course, unbeaten since with the Lingfield wins earning Ng approximately HK$1.8 million and thus he’s already had a positive return on the 130,000 guineas (about HK$1.37 million) he spent on the horse at Tattersalls Autumn Horses In Training Sale. He could add HK$9.12 million to that tally should he win on Sunday.
Rupert Pritchard-Gordon, Ng’s racing manager, said that an invitation to run in Hong Kong was ‘hard to refuse’ given that his owner lives here. “Mr Ng never comes to see his horses run in Europe and when you get an invite for a race like the Champions Mile it's quite tempting to give it a go.”
Stormy Antarctic is also owned in Hong Kong, by Siu Pak Kwan, who won last Sunday’s G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup with the John Moore-trained Eagle Way. Locally-based jockey Karis Teetan will take the ride and is expected to be aboard for a grass workout tomorrow or Friday.
“Karis is a good jockey and the owners are keen to use him,” Walker told the Racing Post last month.
“I know getting beaten in a Listed race isn't necessarily Group 1 form, but I think he was unlucky to get beaten. It was a prep race and I still retain faith he can bag a big one,” Walker also said in reference to the Doncaster Mile second. This is Walker’s first runner in Hong Kong but, in his short career, he has already won races in Australia and France.
Stormy Antarctic has an easy gallop on the all-weather track today.
Vanderlin (blue/orange diamonds) ran fifth to Bullish Luck in the 2006 Champions Mile.
Convey exercises at Sha Tin this morning.