The future of Hong Kong’s best dirt horse – Kings Shield – belongs outside this jurisdiction.
The American-bred five-year-old showed his class with a dominant display on Wednesday night, running his rivals ragged over 1,650m. He had panels on them.
Because he won by almost four lengths eased down, the handicappers put him up 11 points to 109. That’s a huge problem because there are no dirt races in Hong Kong for anyone with a rating above 105.
It means trainer Frankie Lor Fu-chuen will be forced to look overseas for target races and something like the Group Two Godolphin Mile on Dubai World Cup night looks a stand-out.
“I think he’s the best dirt horse in Hong Kong,” Lor said. “We’re planning to go to Dubai but we don’t know, with the virus, whether we can go or not, but in Hong Kong there’s not too many dirt races, so I still need to race him on the turf to keep him fit.”
The Hong Kong programme means Kings Shield, who is now rated the equal 28th best horse in the jurisdictions, will be forced to race in Class One and Group races just to maintain fitness before launching an overseas assault. And of course everything is at the mercy of Covid-19.
It is a shame because the son of Scat Daddy is a duffer on the grass. In five runs last season, his best finish was an eighth.
“He’s a totally different horse on the dirt,” Lor said.
Connections should consider a longer campaign in Dubai, potentially taking in a race like Group Three Burj Nahaar (1,600m) on Super Saturday. Beyond that, maybe look to the USA or Korea if that is back up and running next year.
Hong Kong’s dirt horses have had success overseas before – think Rich Tapestry’s breakthrough victory in the Group One Santa Anita Sprint Championship in 2014, Sterling City claiming the Group One Dubai Golden Shaheen earlier in the same year or Super Jockey taking out the inaugural Korea Sprint in 2016.
There have been plenty of discussions in the past about creating Group-level races on the dirt in Hong Kong, but that is not going to happen under the current administration – there is no interest.
Kings Shield will have to head overseas if we’re ever going to find out what he’s capable of.
Jerry Chau Chun-lok has earned rave reviews from trainers this season and raced to his 20-win milestone, but he won’t be resting on his laurels.
The talented youngster was brought back to Hong Kong a year ahead of schedule after apprentice Gary Lo King-yeung was disissed before he’d ridden in a race and it took him a little bit of time to find his feet.
But good judges were steadfast – the kid has ability. He looks good on a horse and now he’s starting to read races better. And it must be remembered, he is still only 20 – six years younger than any other rider at Sha Tin.
His double on Wednesday night meant his 10-pound claim is no more and the challenge is to keep improving with only seven pounds up his sleeve.
Chau is adamant he will put in the work with mentor Felix Coetzee and his boss Douglas Whyte to ensure he gets to the next level.
“I’ve been really focused this season and I have to thank the trainers for giving me a lot of opportunities, support and good horses to let me learn things. My boss as well, he teaches me a lot,” Chau said.
“When you’ve got the 10-pound claim all the trainers want to put you on because it is a big advantage and now I’m down to seven, I need to improve more and prove to the trainers I can ride and hope they give me the same opportunities.”
Chau knows there are areas he needs to address.
“I’m more comfortable out there now but it’s still tough in Hong Kong. If you don’t have a good barrier, it can be hard to get a good position and I need to improve at that,” he said.
“I need to stop getting suspended, so I need to focus on not changing my line, be careful and keep everyone safe.
“After the races, I do reviews with Mr Coetzee and my boss as well to try to see what I can do better. I’m up for the challenge.”