Preview of Hong Kong Champions Day at Sha Tin this Sunday, April 29

Friday (27/4) track notes and stories ahead of Champions Day at Sha Tin this Sunday, April 29

Audemars Piguet QEII Cup
Exercised on the small inner dirt track.
Jockey Karis Teetan said: “Of course, these are high-class horses he is running against but he has done well, this horse. He’s had a few good wins this season. It’s not a big field so if he can get himself in a decent position, he can run well. His last run was decent so, while I’m not going to say he’s a live winning chance, he’s got a chance to run a good race in here. I don’t know how much pressure Time Warp will get from other horses, particularly the Japanese, but if he goes a decent pace, we will be happy to sit a few lengths off him. We will try not to use too much petrol.”
Exercised on the small inner all-weather track.
Jockey Joao Moreira said: “Now we’re going back to the Derby distance against stronger horses, but even though it’s against stronger horses, the way he won the Derby he would be a chance. The horse himself is doing very well  in his preparation – he gave me such a great feel in his barrier trial last week. Time Warp is obviously the main danger and Zac (Purton) is a master of judging pace. If Ping Hai Star can relax in the first half of the race and produce the finish that he did in the Derby, I think he will  be flashing on the outside. If he turns for home close enough, I think he’s going to go past them.”
Exercised in the quarantine stables’ trotting ring and then schooled at the paddock and the starting gate.
Assistant trainer Shinichiro Kobayashi said: “He usually becomes eager when he walks around the paddock before he has a preliminary canter on race day.  He was a bit excited this morning after he walked at the paddock, but it has been a good experience for him to be familiarised with it.  Hopefully he will be more relaxed on Sunday.  He practiced to stand still with the stall handler staying beside him in the gate, and he was fine with it, which should be effective on Sunday.”
Trotted in the quarantine stables before behaving like a model pupil during schooling around the paddock, and behaved himself when schooling in the saddling area and at the starting gate. 
Trainer Yasutoshi Ikee said: “He was very relaxed this morning as he recognised he wouldn’t be doing too much today. I am happy with his schooling at the paddock, saddling area and starting gate.”
Champions Mile
Exercised on the small inner all-weather track.
Jockey Karis Teetan said: “It’s nice to get back on him again. They had asked me, but I was already engaged with Fifty Fifty, so it’s just circumstances that have led me to reunite with him and I’m lucky to get the ride. I’ve wanted the horse to go back to a mile for a while, and especially this time, coming off the run in Japan. I think he’s in that awkward spot where the 1200m is too sharp but the 1600m finds him out a little bit, although maybe now he’s older, he’ll be OK – I do think 1400m is his best trip. He did run well in the Classic Mile a couple of years back. He’s got a good draw so we’ll just keep him where he’s happy.”
Chairman’s Sprint Prize
Exercised on the small inner all-weather track.
Jockey Karis Teetan said: “He’s a Group 1 horse, we all know it. He is only a Group 3 winner in name but he’s a Group 1 talent in ability. He just has a few issues that have prevented him getting a big name. We all know though that John Size wouldn’t run him if he didn’t think he had some chance so I go in there hopeful. I don’t think there is any sprinter in the world currently that could match John Size’s sprinters – he’s got them absolutely flying. I think John is going to win the race, it just depends in which order they finish.”
Worked 800m on the all-weather track under race rider Brett Prebble in 1m 01.6s (33.6, 28.0).
Trainer Francis Lui said: “After he was beaten in the Centenary Sprint Cup in January we sent him for a rest and now he looks bright and back to his old self. The field will be strong though – John Size has some good young horses and it’s not going to be easy. My horse still has his quality and now the mind is back.”
Cantered on the small inner all-weather track.
Jockey Joao Moreira said: “Last time they didn’t go very hard and they ran home very strong sectionals, but if they don’t go slow, he’ll still be running strong sectionals and making it interesting. Whoever wants to beat him is going to have to race very strongly because he will be hitting the line very strongly. I don’t think there will be much between the field – first to fourth I guess will be a length and a half maximum.”
Cantered on the dirt track.
Trainer Charlie Appleby said: “He’s switching leads and doing everything right. I’m delighted with him. He’s ready for Sunday’s race.”
Cantered on the dirt track before taking a walk around the parade ring and schooling at the saddling area and starting stalls.
Trainer Yoshitada Takahashi said: “He has settled in well and has really acquainted himself with the surroundings. He has moved comfortably during his work and felt good this morning. Mentally, he has been switched on and sharpened up since the breeze he had the other day. All has gone well so far.”
Photos – Champions Day Friday trackwork
Audemars Piguet QEII Cup
Champions Mile
Chairman’s Sprint Prize
Appleby eyes redemption for Blue Point in Chairman’s Sprint Prize
By Andrew Hawkins
Trainer Charlie Appleby declared himself content with his G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize runner Blue Point this morning (Friday, 27 April), two days out from the HK$16 million feature.
Appleby was on hand at Sha Tin for the first time this morning and watched on as Blue Point completed a lap of the all-weather track under regular rider Giuseppe Bussu. Walking back alongside his horse with assistant Sophie Chretien, an animated Appleby could not hide his satisfaction at the four-year-old’s condition.
“I’m delighted with him,” he said. “He shipped in very well, Sophie knows him inside out and the team was pleased with the way he settled into his surroundings. He was on the turf yesterday, Giuseppe said he moved around beautifully, he was pleased to see him switching his leads well. He’s doing all the right stuff, showing us all the right signs.”
Blue Point has only had one start in 2018, finding the line powerfully to just fall short in the G2 Meydan Sprint (1000m) in February. The bay was at the head of the market for the G1 Al Quoz Sprint (1200m) last month, but was withdrawn at the gates when blood was detected in his nostrils.
“Frankly, we’re here now so it wasn’t too serious,” Appleby explained. “If it had been serious, we wouldn’t be standing where we are now. It was an unfortunate situation, he must have given himself a bang somewhere along the line there, but post-race, we haven’t had a setback at all. It was just fortunate on the night that we had a reserve there in Jungle Cat to pick up the pieces. It’s worked out well too because we come here with a fresh horse.
“If Blue Point had run on World Cup night, this would have been a serious question – coming out here and then heading on to Royal Ascot, it would have been a tough test. But the way it has panned out, timing-wise, it suits us. It was a race we purposely made the entry for, not quite knowing what would happen, and with him missing World Cup night, it was a logical step coming here and then going on to Royal Ascot.”
Appleby said it was something of a missed opportunity for Blue Point, given that all indications were that he was a stronger Al Quoz chance than his stablemate. Jungle Cat eventually won the 1200m contest by a half-length.
“All the home evidence and obviously on his European form, Blue Point’s in front; strictly on ratings, too,” the trainer said. “He was the odds-on favourite for the Al Quoz Sprint, so obviously I’m going to have to say that Blue Point’s in front. At the end of the day, though, Jungle Cat’s done it at Group 1 level so now we need this fellow to do the same too. This is his chance.”
Jockey William Buick, who has ridden Blue Point in seven of his past eight starts, will fly in on Saturday (28 April). It will be the Norwegian native’s first ride at Sha Tin in almost five years; his last visit in December, 2013, saw him almost score a maiden Hong Kong win, finishing second aboard The Fugue in the G1 Hong Kong Vase (2400m) and fourth on Gordon Lord Byron in the G1 Hong Kong Mile.
“Myself and William have spoken about the race and been through the opposition,” Appleby said. “It’s like any Group 1 race, you respect all of them, it’s not just one horse in particular. They are all there competing at the highest level. It’s not a big field this year, we’ve drawn six of nine; that suits us, that gives William options on the day.”
All of Blue Point’s 11 starts have been over straight courses, including three G1 placings and a track record over 1200m at Ascot, but Appleby is not concerned about tackling Sha Tin’s right-handed bend for the first time.
“I don’t see it as a concern at all; if anything, I think it’s going to be a positive for him,” the trainer said. “He’s been in Dubai over the winter and has been training on a turn every day, and about six weeks ago we purposely switched him to training right-handed. This morning, he switched his leads very naturally.”
Blue Point is Appleby’s second Hong Kong starter; the 42-year-old also saddled up Safety Check at this meeting two years ago, with the G2 winner finishing fifth to Maurice in the 2016 Champions Mile. However, Appleby indicated on Friday morning that he is likely to have another Sha Tin runner next month with Frontiersman an intended runner in the G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) on 27 May.
“Hopefully, we’ll be here next month, that’s the plan at this stage,” he said of Frontiersman, a son of 2005 Hong Kong Vase winner Ouija Board. “He’s come out of World Cup night in good order, he ran well up to two miles in the Gold Cup. We’ve been kind enough to get the invitation here. He’ll appreciate the conditions here and if he brings his A-game, I think he’ll be a live contender.”
Frontiersman would be the first international horse to contest Hong Kong’s end-of-season Group 1, but for now, the focus is on Blue Point’s bid to join Australian grey Chautauqua as a foreign-trained winner of the Chairman’s Sprint Prize.
“This is what Godolphin is all about, we want to be an international stable,” Appleby said. “Fortunately, we have horses like Blue Point and Hawkbill and Jungle Cat currently that are allowing us to be able to travel again to these big meetings. Hopefully, Blue Point can put up a good race on Sunday.”
Lucky Bubbles’ “mind is back” for Chairman’s Sprint Prize defence
By David Morgan
Lucky Bubbles is ready to burst back into the Group 1 sprint picture in Sunday’s HK$16 million Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m), a race that trainer Francis Lui is hoping will relaunch his gelding towards Royal Ascot and beyond.
The talented chestnut was at the peak of his powers when winning last year’s edition of the Champions Day speed feature in a thrilling tussle with Mr Stunning. But after a solid second to that rival first-up this term in a course and distance G2, Lucky Bubbles looked jaded, prompting a short and seemingly refreshing break at the Jockey Club’s Beas River equestrian centre.
“He looks like he’s back in his form and in his mind. His form was just okay in his last few runs – normally my horses improve little by little through their prep but he didn’t, he just stayed in the same place,” Lui said at Sha Tin this morning, Friday, 27 April.
“He got some interference in the Jockey Club Sprint in November and he just wasn’t happy. After he was beaten in the Centenary Sprint Cup in January we sent him for a rest and now he looks bright and back to his old self. The field will be strong though – John Size has some good young horses and it’s not going to be easy.”
The rise of the next generation is a factor in the decision to enter Lucky Bubbles for the G1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (1200m) at Ascot in June.
“Ascot will be another test for the horse and it’s a trial really, because next season there may be another young horse coming through and he’s getting older – it’s not easy to beat the young horses. If he runs well, then we know we have options to travel him other places, too, maybe to Japan,” Lui said.
Jockey Brett Prebble was a key protagonist in the Lucky Bubbles story right up to last year’s Chairman’s Sprint Prize. But it was Hugh Bowman who took the reins, the glory and the pay cheque on that pinnacle day.
“It was because we just wanted to change something – a change of luck because the horse was running very well but just wasn’t winning,” explained Lui. “Brett did nothing wrong, he looked after the horse very well and he knows the horse very well. It was difficult for everybody, of course.”
Prebble had ridden the horse in each of his 16 Hong Kong starts prior to that for six wins and six seconds, one of the latter coming in the 2016 G1 Hong Kong Sprint. In Lucky Bubbles’ four starts this season, Bowman and Zac Purton have shared the duties. Prebble, though, is now back in the saddle.
“It’s nice to get aboard him and maybe get the win I lost last year,” Prebble said. “I’ve won four Chairman’s Sprint Prizes and it’s not an easy race to win, it’s worth a lot of money now, and obviously I had a long association with this horse.
“It would be quite special to win this on him. I’m good friends with the owners (Lucky Syndicate) and he’s a great little horse, he’s such a trier. There’s not a lot between these horses and these races can be run so differently so gates, luck and tactics will all be important.”
Lucky Bubbles will break from gate five in the field of nine. The six-year-old warmed up for Sunday with a barrier trial run last week (17 April) that was full of vitality. The defending champ moved with a verve that had been missing earlier in the season as he quickened past the Size-trained young gun, Hot King Prawn, to pass the post first in the 1200m dirt heat.
“He hasn’t got the race fitness of all the other horses but he didn’t have that much down time and we gave him a nice trial,” Prebble said. “Anyone who was there to see the trial wouldn’t have been disappointed in him. He was alongside a decent horse in Hot King Prawn, he had a nice blow and pulled up quite clean.
“He’s going nice, he’s training well. He’s got a good bit of life about him, obviously he is going in there fresh and I think he really appreciates that. He’s not a big, robust horse. All of his first-up runs have been some of his best performances – and some of his unluckiest, too!”
The Australian ace is also warm on connections’ Royal Ascot plan.
“Francis asked me and I just said, ‘Well, it costs you nothing to put him in!’ I’m not sure about the owners but we’ll see how he comes through Sunday and they can make a decision then,” he said.
But first, Lucky Bubbles will attempt to follow in the illustrious hoof prints of Silent Witness, Sacred Kingdom, Lucky Nine, Fairy King Prawn, Dim Sum and Mr Vitality, and become the seventh horse to win the Chairman’s Sprint Prize twice.
“My horse still has his quality and now the mind is back,” Lui said.
Otonashi draws on experience for Danburite’s APQEII Cup quest
By Steve Moran
Japanese trainer Hidetaka Otonashi has drawn on the experience of his one previous Hong Kong runner to potentially have Danburite, his high class middle-distance performer, in the best order for Sunday’s HK$24 million G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (2000m).
That previous runner was Mikki Isle, who finished a creditable seventh in the 2015 Hong Kong Sprint despite the travel and training having dulled his performance, according to the former jockey and eight-time G1-winning trainer.
“When I sent Mikki Isle to Hong Kong, he suffered from the stress of travelling and arrived with a slightly elevated temperature. He wasn’t at his best through that week. So, this time, I thought I would not do too much with my horse over the week, as he has done all he needed to before we brought him here,” Otonashi said from Japan, as he is unable to make the trip himself this time.
Danburite, a son of the 2012 APQEII Cup winner Rulership, has looked to thrive during the week at Sha Tin and Otonashi said his staff have assured him the horse has done well in Hong Kong.
“They tell me that he has been very fresh and bright and in good form through the week. He had a steady work-out on the turf on Monday and Thursday morning, and he maintains his good condition,” Otonashi said.
He was certainly bright enough yesterday (Thursday) morning when he worked on the turf under exercise rider Shinichiro Kobayashi, who said: “After he warmed-up in the trotting ring, he went out on to the turf course and cantered along before he started to accelerate from the 600 (metres). He moved nicely and responded well as I asked him to quicken up.
“He has done almost all he has needed to before he arrived, so I have not asked too much of him over this week. Everything has gone as planned. Today, he headed down to the paddock area and the starting gate for schooling.”
Hong Kong-based Australian jockey Tommy Berry takes the reins on Sunday. “The owner wanted a top Hong Kong jockey to ride the horse and Berry certainly has the local knowledge and experience,” Otonashi explained.
Berry, who has recoverd from a Tuesday track work fall, is certainly looking forward to riding Danburite whose form is ‘at the very least competitive’ according to the jockey. He comes into the race after a win in the G2 American Jockey Club Cup at Nakayama on 21 January and a subsequent sixth place behind Suave Richard in the G1 Osaka Hai at Hanshin on 1 April.
“He looks a bold, front-running type or one who races very close to the pace if he doesn’t lead. His last run was better than it looks when he finished sixth in the Group 1. He was cluttered up in behind them in a race that turned into a sit and sprint.
“You saw him at his best at his previous start when the tempo was strong and he rolled on to a solid win after stalking the speed,” Berry said.
Otonashi has a similar view of the two lead-up runs. “I think the best way to ride him is how he was ridden in the American Jockey Club Cup. The pace suited him and he was there on the speed. Jockey Mirco Demuro really gave him a good ride in the race.
“On the other hand last time, in the Osaka Hai, the pace was moderate – much slower. He was able to take a good spot early but then lost that spot. I asked the jockey to have a similar strategy to what Mirco had done in the previous start but it didn’t work out. He is not the type of horse who has a great turn-of-foot but he has the staying power to sustain a long run so I wanted him to make his bid earlier but the jockey waited too long to ask him to go.
“The racing in Hong Kong tends to suit horses who have good closing speed, but hopefully he can sit handy or close to the speed and run his race. There are only eight horses in the field so the barrier draw won’t be an issue and he’ll go forward,” Otonashi said.
Danburite joins compatriot and the similarly performed Al Ain, who finished third in the Osaka Hai, in the quest for a fifth APQEII Cup win for Japan – following Neorealism last year, Rulership in 2012 and Eishin Preston’s double in 2002 and 2003.


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