The Hong Kong International Raceday is the biggest on their calendar. Unoffically known as the “World Turf Championships”, the meeting attracts competitive entries from all over the world, and the total prize money for the meeting is HK$83 Million. It takes place at the rather splendid Sha Tin Racecourse, and is always on the second Sunday in December, each year. The build-up and media coverage, is extensive, and by the actual raceday, one is quite familiar with all the runners in the big races, even if you aren’t attending the meeting itself. The Hong Kong Jockey has strived to make the meeting the “best in the world”.
In 2014, some of the betting regulations were changed in Hong Kong, and it allowed the co-mingling of betting pools with England, Australia, America, South Africa and Canada, along with neighbours Macau and Singapore. This is also what prompted their more vigorous approach to marketing via social media, which has made everything so much more accessible to overseas punters and fans. The 2016 meeting saw a crowd of 100 710 people on course – a new attendance record! It was huge rise from the 74 000 in 2014, and the 88 500 in 2015. The betting turnover is no less astonishing, with HK$1.518 Billion bet on that single meeting. Even for non-racing enthusiast, the raceday is definitely a “bucket list” event to attend.
Gr1 Longines Hong Kong Vase
The first of the “Big Four” Hong Kong International Races, was the HK$16.5 Million Gr1 Longines Hong Kong Vase, over 2400m. The race was Highland Reel’s (IRE) for the taking. He’d run them ragged in the 2015 edition of the race, which had given Irish Champion trainer Aidan O’Brien his first victory in the Vase, under his regular jockey, global superstar Ryan Moore. He was also fresh off an impressively decisive victory in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Turf, in the USA, having beaten US Turf Horse of the Year Flintshire, and the superstar mare Found (IRE). O’Brien was bullish after the race, and announced his intentions to travel to the Far East, in the next leg of his campaign. O’Brien said in a post-race press conference, “He has two options now, in the Japan Cup, and a race in Hong Kong… he’s an incredibly versatile horse that loves travelling.” They decided to take their chances in the latter option, and he was lined up against a fair field in the Hong Kong Vase.
Ryan Moore streaked to the front almost immediately from the jump, and set a blistering pace up front. And it was only just strides from the post, that Japanese raider, Satono Crown, under Joao Moreira, just edged ahead of Highland Reel, and took the honours. It was an agonising duel to watch, and Aidan O’Brien was not disappointed to finish second, “No complaints, he ran his heart out!”
Take nothing away from the winner Satono Crown though – he came flying from off the pace, to deny the tote and crowd favourite, in the dying strides. Moreira was thrilled with the win, “I thought I had a big chance before the race, and it worked out. I tracked Silverwave early and got a clear run through. I had a lot of horse under me at the head of the stretch, and was always confident that I could get to the leader.”
Gr1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint
One of the most remarkable things about Hong Kong Racing is the adoration that the racing public give the star horses and top jockeys. Aerovelocity is one such horse – much loved for both his winning ways, and quirky behaviour. But at eight years old, he is in the twilight of his career, and with various behavioural and soundness issues plaguing him in the run up to the Hong Kong International Raceday, his connections were less than confident about his chances in the Gr1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint.
Other contenders included the winner of the 2015 Hong Kong Sprint, Peniaphobia, new upcoming sprinting star Lucky Bubbles, and Super Jockey, who is trained by South African, Tony Millard. Super Jockey’s previous start was his dominant win in the $700 000 Korea Sprint, in Seoul, all the way back in September 2016. Millard rates Super Jockey as the best horse in his string currently, but the long break between races was telling, and after the very wide draw, he rated the stable companion Strathmore a stronger runner. Before the race, Millard said, “After the draw, I am a little bit more reserved. Strathmore is therefore my stronger one going in. With Super Jockey being a front runner and an on-pace horse, the draw is a big blow.”
Karis Teetan, Super Jockey’s rider, said he had to work really hard to get up to the front at the start of the race, and used up a lot on energy early on. The pace was eventually set by Peniaphobia, under Sylvstre de Sousa, with Super Jockey wide in second, and Aerovelocity being settled into third spot, by a patient Zac Purton. Peniaphobia only weakened very late, and Aerovelocity took the lead just a furlong from home. Brett Prebble was finishing fast up the outside, on a flying Lucky Bubbles, who’d raced from quite far off the pace until the last 300m. Super Jockey and Strathmore were unplaced.
Zac Purton gave all the credit to his veteran mount,
“It’s a good feeling because we were of the opinion that we’re starting to lose him. And we know he’s a warrior and he gives everything he’s got and although he didn’t perform at his best today, his heart is so big that he’s able to give us that effort. Paul had fine-tuned him and dropped the extra little pounds that he was carrying and got him as best as he could for today so he’s done a great job. We had a lovely run in the race and he came out and he was just able to amble up. It was hard fought in the end, but he is all heart.”
The Hong Kong Mile
The HK$23 Million Gr1 Longines Hong Kong Mile, was the third Grade One race of the afternoon, and one eagerly anticipated by the crowd, as they would soon catch a glimpse of their beloved Able Friend. But his fairy tale comeback win was not to be, as Zac Purton bagged his second Gr1 win of the day aboard the Tony Cruz trained Beauty Only. The going on the day had been firm and quick, which suited the Italian bred Beauty Only perfectly and he was placed near the back of the field from the jump. At the 600m Purton started edging forward, and was carried out quite widely as they hit the straight. But they had the momentum, and Beauty Only powered home to take victory by a half length, over Helene Paragon. Joyful Trinity and Contentment, finished 3rd and 4th respectively, making it an all Hong Kong trained quartet in the Mile.
Purton and Cruz were understandably thrilled with the win, and both said that Beauty Only had a very bright future ahead of him. “He was really good,’ said Purton.
“I think we’re just starting to see the best of him. He’s always been so honest but now that he’s fully matured and acclimatized we’re really seeing what he can do.”
“He is much improved this season and he was very strong today. Hughie (Bowman) pushed off the fence about the 700 which made me have to go a bit earlier than I wanted to but the horse has got a big set of lungs and kept running. We set sail after the leaders and he responded really well. I believe he can stretch out to 2,000 (metres) so there was no doubting him being strong at the end of the mile.”
“The firm ground suited – the harder the better for him and so did the good speed. We know he does his best now if we let him balance up early.”
Tote favourite Able Friend ran a fair race to finish just two lengths back, in 6th place, in his second run back, after a nine month injury-enforced break.
The Hong Kong Cup
The on-course excitement had built to a crescendo by the time the runners for the biggest race of the day, the HK$25 Million 2000m Gr1 Longines Hong Kong Cup, stepped out onto the track. The betting suggested it would be a battle between the Japanese raiders A Shin Hikari and Maurice, who were rated 129 and 124, and 4th and 7th respectively, on the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings list.
A Shin Hikari had won the 2015 running of the race, which had actually put him right at the very top of the World Rankings in January 2016. But often with such brilliance, madness is not far behind, and the imposing steel grey entire is notorious for his quirky antics. He certainly lived up to that reputation, as he managed to get loose in the parade ring, shortly before being saddled up for the race. It was a heart stopping few moments for everyone as he bolted around the ring for about 30 seconds!
Maurice, on the other hand, had a reputation of being an absolute gentleman, in fact rather laid back. He’d won the Hong Kong Mile the year before, and was awarded Japanese Horse Of The Year, after a six race winning streak, all over 1600m, in 2015. In May 2016 he raided Hong Kong again, and was victorious in the Gr1 Champions Mile, so it was no surprise to see him tote favourite for the 2016 Hong Kong Cup.
Yutake Take took a wound-up A Shin Hikari straight to the lead from the jump, while Maurice made an uncharacteristic faux pas, and completely missed the break. The unflappable Ryan Moore kept his cool, and placed him quietly on the rail, 3rd from last. Yutake Take took advantage of the firm, quick going, and set an incredibly fast pace in front, with A Shin Hikari being nearly 5 lengths in front of the second horse, just 800m into the race. The quarter mile split times were blisteringly fast, which played into Moore’s hands beautifully. At the 300m mark, with no false rail, it looked like Maurice and Moore had nowhere to go, but a gap opened in the wall of horses before them, and they burst through as if they had some afterburners behind the saddle. Maurice simply ate up the ground and powered home to a three length victory, going away. In second was the Hong Kong trained Secret Weapon, and another Japanese raider, Staphanos, completed the trifecta. A Shin Hikari faded out to the back of the field.
Finishing just 4.5 lengths behind Maurice was a rather impressive South African bred gelding, trained by Tony Millard, called Horse Of Fortune. Bred by Northfields Stud, he was originally named Strongman in South Africa, where he won 3 races for Cape conditioner Glen Puller. By Stronghold, out of Sweet Virginia, who is by Casey Tibbs, Horse Of Fortune has now won 8 races from 25 career starts, including the Gr2 Sa Sa Ladies Purse in Hong Kong.
The Able Friend Phenomenon
The inimitable Able Friend, is without doubt, the most popular racing public favourite in Hong Kong, currently. The souvenir shops have shelves packed with merchandise with his name on it. There are key rings, hats, shirts, flags and plushy toys, all made to look like him – even with his trademark sheepskin cheek pieces! The grandstand crowd, often numbering up to 100 000 people, roar with excitement when the see him on the racecourse, and he is always followed by an army of enthusiastic reporters, even on the training tracks, in the early mornings. Every single racing fan is, quite literally, besotted with Able Friend.
He was born in Australia in 2009, and ran his first two races there, before being exported to race in Hong Kong, in January 2013. Six months later he burst onto the Hong Kong racing circuit, with a succinct victory in a 1200m race. He’d already started to win the hearts of the racing public at that stage. In January 2014, he lined up in the Gr1 Hong Kong Classic Mile against a very competitive field, and duly obliged by winning the race by half a length from another top Hong Kong campaigner, Designs On Rome (IRE). Joao “Magic” Moreira was really impressed with the run and felt that he “could possibly be the best horse I have ever ridden”, and with what was to follow, he was certainly not wrong. In April 2014, Able Friend was entered to run in the Gr2 Chairman’s Trophy, back over 1600m again, but this time the Mauritian born Karis Teetan, deputised for the suspended Moreira, which he won in fine style. Teetan has said it is one of his all-time favourite wins as a jockey, mostly because of the jubilant celebrations of the crowd on the course that day.
The racing public’s adoration intensified just a few months later, when on 23 November 2014, Able Friend started a sensational six race winning streak. The wins included his very first Gr1 Hong Kong Mile in December 2014, and no less than 4 international Grade One races. He seemed unstoppable, and trainer John Moore, and his owner Mr Daniel Yeung decided to take their chances and race the Champion Miler at Royal Ascot, in June 2015, in the Queen Anne Stakes. But the normally calm and relaxed Able Friend was a much sweat in the parade ring, and never travelled well in the race. He finished down field, in sixth place. But to his fans’ delight, he won his next Hong Kong start with ease, regaining his title as “king of hearts”, with his Hong Kong fans. In December 2015, he ran 3rd in the Hong Kong Sprint, behind Japanese sensation Maurice, unfortunately just three weeks later, disaster struck. Coming off the training tracks in January 2016, his trainer John Moore discovered some swelling on his off fore. He was found to have a very rare strain of the deep digital flexor tendon. He was very shortly afterwards, shipped off to Australia for some intensive rehabilitation and rest. The injury responded well, and he came back into full work in October last year. They managed to squeeze in a prep run in November, before lining up in the 2016 Gr1 Longines Hong Kong Mile in December. His popularity has never waned with the public, and he started as favourite, although possibly only due to the great sentiment of his adoring fans. He was gallant in defeat, and finished a close up sixth place. Moreira was pragmatic in defeat, “He feels like he needed another run – his lack of finish told”. Perhaps he fell afoul of the much vaunted “second run after a lay off” curse?
Born in Australia, Able Friend is by the Giant’s Causeway stallion, Shamardal (USA), and out of Ponte Piccolo (NZ), who is by Volksraad (NZ). This liver chestnut gelding has had 25 career starts, for 13 wins, and has amassed over HK$ 59 Million in stakes. He is also the highest ever rated Hong Kong horse, on the Longines International Ratings – at his best he was rated at 127. He was crowned Hong Kong Horse Of The Year in 2015, and in spite of his recent dip in form, steadfastly remains the Hong Kong public’s favourite horse.
Millard’s Hong Kong Magic
The Millard name is synonymous with horseracing in South Africa, so it is no surprise that Millard is a household name in Hong Kong too. Tony Millard has been in Hong Kong for over 17 years now, and in April 2016, he saddled his 500th Hong Kong trained winner. That is an incredible achievement considering his string has never been bigger than 60 horses!
On 11 September 2016, Tony Millard made international headlines, when his stable star Super Jockey, won the KOR Gr1 $700 000 Korea Sprint at Seoul Racecourse. It was the very first time a Hong Kong based horse had raced in South Korea, and the racing media went into a frenzy when they won the inaugural running of this race. Millard’s reputation for meticulous attention to detail was evident in his post-race comments, “Going into this sprint, a lot of things went right and we had a good feeling about it,” Millard said. “The team worked really well, because we had to prepare the horse in the off-season, which is not easy, especially as he is a horse that doesn’t sweat. That’s quite a big call in Hong Kong’s summer humidity. The race panned out exactly the way we planned, which doesn’t often happen. He runs very well fresh. We know that and I was very happy with his preparation coming into this. It was great. I didn’t actually expect him to win that well, but he’s a high-class horse.”
Super Jockey’s win in the Korea Sprint was certainly impressive and, under Mauritian born, South African-trained jockey Karis Teetan, he won by 4 lengths, going away, on a surface not dissimilar to the now defunct Vaal Sand track. The bay New Zealand bred gelding’s next start was in the HK$18.5 Million Longines Hong Kong Sprint, on the big Hong Kong International Raceday, in December 2016. But after getting a very poor draw, Millard was a lot less confident. “After the draw, I am a little bit more reserved. Strathmore is therefore my stronger one going in. With Super Jockey being a front runner and an on-pace horse, the draw is a big blow.” Jockey Teetan had to fight hard from the jump to achieve Super Jockey’s favoured running position up near the front, and with the huge effort at the start, faded in the straight, to finish just 3.5 lengths behind the old warrior Aerovelocity.
By far the best horse Millard has ever trained in Hong Kong is Ambitious Dragon (and he is quick to add that that honour goes to Empress Club from his days in South Africa!). Ambitious Dragon was another beloved favourite of the Hong Kong racing public. The New Zealand bred gelding won 13 races from 30 starts in Hong Kong, with a stakes total of over HK$58 Million.
His two biggest victories were the Gr1 Audemars Piguet QE II Cup in 2011, and the Gr1 Longines Hong Kong Mile in 2012. In April 2015 after a retirement ceremony was held between races at Sha Tin Racecourse, for Ambitious Dragon, he was repatriated to New Zealand to enjoy some down time at Lime Country Stud & Pre-Training Centre. A most fitting retirement for the sixth leading stakes-earner ever, in Hong Kong history!
Millard currently rates Super Jockey as the best in his yard, with his other useful sprinter Strathmore, a “close second”. Training racehorses in the city at Sha Tin is the complete antithesis of the grassy open spaces at the Vaal Racecourse, where he was based previously, in South Africa. The Sha Tin stable blocks are multilevel, often up to three stories high, and the horses access the upper levels via ramps. Due to the poor air quality, high temperatures and extreme humidity, all the stable blocks are fully air-conditioned. “Respiratory problems are our biggest challenge. The air-conditioning in the stable buildings runs the whole day, which is not really good for breathing issues.”
Keeping horses stimulated and happy is another challenge for the Hong Kong trainers, and Millard falls back on the old South African tradition of plenty of outdoor time. “We try to keep them outside as long as possible. We walk them after trackwork and again in the afternoon. I try to keep them out and with the sun on their backs as long as possible.”
But the Millard Team is not complete without the immense input of Tony’s wife, Beverly. An accomplished rider and horsewoman in her own right, Beverly plays a very big role in the day to day running of the yard. “Well she always has a lot to say!” he quips! “Beverly does the books and rides morning trackwork as well. She is very hands on and very involved in the yard.”
When asked if he had any plans to ever return to South Africa, perhaps even to train again, he replied,
“Not at this stage. I have been here for nearly 18 years. I am the second longest expat trainer here behind John Moore. There have been a lot between me and Moore that have come and gone.”
Karis Teetan – On The Up!
The first things that you notice about Karis Teetan are his old school courtesy and professionalism. There is no doubt that his humble beginnings in the industry are the reason for that. Born in Mauritius, it came as no surprise that he grew up obsessed with horses and racing, from a young age. Horseracing in Mauritius is about as close as you will get to a “national sport”, and the Champ De Mars Racecourse is packed to the rafters on racedays. Mauritians literally eat, sleep and breathe horseracing!
His father was an impoverished sugar cane labourer, so Karis’s opportunities to ride were mostly on the horses his father’s friends owned, and later on at the Mauritius Pony Club as a show jumper. But his destiny changed in 2004, when the Headmaster of the world famous South African Jockey Academy, in Summerveld, near Durban, came to assess potential candidates for the Academy. Teetan was just one of two candidates selected to make the journey across the Indian Ocean to South Africa. He was completely overwhelmed in the beginning. He had very little money, and could not speak any English at all. Teetan has always said that the professional team and setup at the Academy are the main foundation of his current success. The Academy staff realised from the start that he needed some extra help, and he was guided and mentored by some of the best riding masters in the world, which lead to him becoming the South African Champion Apprentice in 2008.
Four years later he was still riding the crest of the wave, and he enjoyed tremendous success with the Cape based Brett Crawford stable. He rode his first Gr1 that season, aboard Dynasty’s strapping son, Jackson, in the 2012 Cape Derby. It was this success which led to him being invited to ride in Hong Kong, and the HKJC gave him a licence to ride for a few months from August 2013. He won the very first Hong Kong race that he ever rode in, and it was also the very first race of the new season – an extremely auspicious start for a new jockey in Hong Kong, and the racing public warmed up to him immediately. That first winner was a horse called Amazing Always, who was trained by South African David Ferraris. Teetan notched up an impressive 50 wins in his first season, which included a HKGR2 win aboard the very popular Able Friend, and he finished a remarkable 3rd in the 2015/16 Hong Kong Jockey’s Premiership, behind Joao Moreira and Zac Purton, with 47 wins in total.
Life for jockeys in Hong Kong is very different to most other racing jurisdictions around the world, and we asked him to tell us a little bit about his day to day life there.
You are “living the dream” in HK at the moment, but it involves a lot of hard work and dedication – what are the biggest challenges of living and working in HK?
“It was always a dream to come here, so I am very pleased to be here. It is very competitive here. It is a place where it is a step higher than back home. It takes a lot of hard work. Here as a jockey you have to book your own rides. So to get the right rides, you need to know how to study form. You need to be a people person as you need to get to know the owners as well as the trainers. I am still learning.”
Where do you live in HK?
“I live on the racecourse. The HKJC provides accommodation for us. I have a beautiful 3 bedroom apartment.”
You have recently ridden winners in Japan and Singapore, how different is it riding in Japan to the rest of the world? What stood out for you in Japan, as the most memorable?
“I have always wanted to pick up rides outside of Hong Kong. Japan was my first choice – what a place to ride! Everybody there works with horses because it is their passion. The racing is very different from here in HK and back home in SA. It took me a few meetings to get used to it! Full pace all the way. They also race two-year-old fillies against the colts over 2000m!
“They are also very strict before a race. The Friday night before a race at 8pm all communication is severed. You have to be at the academy which is known as ‘jockey jail’, with no contact with the outside world. It is well equipped though, there is a sauna, jacuzzi and you get your own room, food etc.
“My first win there was the most memorable.”
You are currently riding a lot of horses for Tony Millard – how do you get your rides in HK? How does the system work there?
“You have to book your own rides here. So you ride track work, barrier trials, study form and then you ask trainers for rides. You try to get what you want. Some owners will put you on their horse if you have a good connection with them. If they like what you do them they will put you on all their horses.”
Where do you see yourself in a year’s time?
“Right here! I have loved it since day one. So I can’t see myself anywhere else. I will try to go to Japan again. The Japanese trainers and owners now know me better. So I can now be more competitive.”