AS usual at the barrier draw before a big race there were broad smiles and a few rather thinner ones at the Jockey Club’s Happy Valley Clubhouse when gates were drawn for the G1 BMW Champions Mile today. Among those few who managed both expressions almost simultaneously was Caspar Fownes who was not too displeased by Lucky Nine’s position in 9 but positively self-mocking when it came to Thumbs Up’s Gate 13.
Steven Jell, representing Mike de Kock. (hkjc.com).
“That’s the sixth time I’ve gone up to draw for a big race and every time I’ve drawn 13 or 14,” remarked Fownes ruefully. “At least I’ve kept my 100 per cent record!”
In fact this was not quite correct because Gate 13 was the only one remaining by the time the trainer was called to the stage, but the effect was exactly the same. “We have no option but to go back from there,” Fownes added, “and the lack of speed in these mile races is often a concern. But this horse can reel off a good sectional, and he’s improved since his last run.”
“The gate’s no problem for him,” said Fownes though of Lucky Nine. “He has the ability to slide forward and hopefully he can land one out one back, which would be perfect. We’ll make our own luck from there!”
John Size was pleased when he drew Gate 3 for Sight Winner. “I’m happy,” said Size of Sight Winner’s draw. “He likes the pressure on the speed and 3’s good for him. He was joint leader with Egyptian Ra when he won this race two years ago, and then toughed it out as he can do.”
The champion trainer was equally contented about Brave Kid’s start from Gate 4. “That draw’s good for him too,” said Size. “He can hold his spot from there and do nothing for the first half mile (800m). I rode him this morning and he felt good.”
There were no frowns either from owner Steven Lo Kit Sing after he’d drawn Gate 7 for his promising young import. “I would have been happy with anything from 1 to 9,” he said, “and 7 should give his jockey (Darren Beadman) some flexibility. I’d say this 1600m or perhaps 1800m would be Xtension’s favourite distance, and although he may be an even better horse next season I’m hoping to see him run well in this race.”
Another putting a positive slant on things was Kwok Siu Ming after he’d drawn the outside gate of 14 for his triple G1-winning Beauty Flash. “Last time in the HK Mile I drew 14 and the horse won,” said the smiling owner. “So I think it’s a lucky draw. He usually runs freely early anyway, so it doesn’t really matter where he’s drawn.”
Work rider Stevan Bourgois representing his boss, trainer Robert Collet, who arrives in Hong Kong today, felt he’d done well too to secure Gate 2 for December’s CXHK Mile runner-up Royal Bench, and incidentally laid to rest any fears about the well being of the four-year-old who seemed reluctant to start his work this morning. “It was nothing serious,” said Bourgois, “and he was fine once he got going.”
Assistant trainer Charlie Henson representing Luca Cumani, trainer of Presvis, was neutral about the Dubai Duty Free winner’s draw in 10. “He’ll be coming late anyway,” said Henson. “We know where he’s going to be in the race until then.”
And another visitor in no way disgruntled was Steven Jell, representing his boss Mike De Kock who arrives in Hong Kong tomorrow. “The draw’s not too important for him,” said Jell. “He won the Guineas in South Africa coming from last, and he’s shown he can run well from third or fourth too. He’s adaptable.”
At the request of his owner, Musir will be representing the UAE on Monday rather than South Africa, and that won’t diminish the optimism of his South African team who will no doubt recall that Archipenko, also trained by De Kock, was a winner of the APQEII Cup three years ago in the same colours of Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum.