SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER //
GET 'MICHAEL COX ON MONDAY' DIRECT TO YOUR INBOX
!— Global site tag (gtag.js) - Google Analytics —>
INDEPENDENT HORSE RACING NEWS
The Hong Kong Jockey Club has ambitions to be a stallion-making circuit but geldings still dominate the stable blocks.
Caspar Fownes took delivery of two smart Australian imports this week, including the late Deep Impact’s well-bred son Elzamee, whose acclimatisation to the tough Hong Kong environment has been aided by a pre-arrival surgery that certainly falls into the ‘routine’ category.
Hong Kong’s active racehorse population is 98 percent geldings with only 25 colts, two fillies and two rigs among the 1,150 horses currently stabled at Sha Tin and Conghua. Elzamee – listed as brand number H120 and yet to receive his registered Hong Kong name – is just the latest blue blood to have his reproductive potential removed in the interests of practicality.
The four-year-old was bought to race and the accepted gospel around Sha Tin is that success is far more achievable when distracting hormones are reduced. With two-storey stables, a noisy built-up environment, no turn-out paddocks, heat, humidity and an exacting daily routine on the flat dirt training tracks, colts are more difficult to manage and their fitness is harder to maintain.
“We made the decision to geld him,” Fownes told the Report. “He looks a nice horse, on paper, and I said to the owners, if we take his balls out, there’s a chance he might go on with it.”
Trainer Casper Fownes. (Photo by HKJC)
When the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) opened Conghua Racecourse in China’s Guangdong Province as a second training centre in August 2018, it took the bold step of not only building some boxes suitable for stallions – and a few turn-out paddocks – but also advanced the ‘vision’ that prospective stallions could become more common on the Hong Kong racing circuit, as it looked ahead to establishing a breeding industry.
The HKJC’s forward-thinking chief executive officer Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges spoke last year about developing a ‘more mature breeding industry in China’ within the next decade or two and has said previously that stallions racing in Hong Kong should be appealing to breeders because they would be ‘genetically sound and not influenced by medication.’
Evidence so far suggests that owners and trainers, wrapped up in the intense day-to-day business of training horses to win races, have not yet bought into the idea of importing colts in any noticeable numbers.
“No chance; I can’t see that happening anytime soon,” opined Fownes, who presently has one colt and one rig in his stable alongside 67 geldings.
“I don’t think there’ll be a breeding facility, certainly not in the next 10 years. I don’t know what the Jockey Club has in its thoughts but the way things are right now, you’d need a lot of mares and a few nice stallions and that’s a big programme: it’s something totally different and I can’t think that would be happening.”
Elzamee is the type of horse that might have been suitable for such a programme – were he to build on his performances so far – being from the phenomenal Deep Impact’s penultimate Southern Hemisphere crop.
The great Deep Impact at Shadai Stallion Station in Hokkaido. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)
He is out of the high-class South African-raced mare Amanee – winner of the G1 Thekwini Stakes at Greyville – and was a AU$1.1 million purchase at the Inglis Easter Yearling Sale in 2020 for an ownership group that included his breeder, Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum.
The two-time winner had some smart Group 2 efforts to his name for the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace training partnership before being sold on to Ringo Ng and Lisa Ng – whose horses are often named with the prefix ‘Power’ – but not enough to have safeguarded his procreative means.
Fownes has not seen Elzamee in the flesh yet, nor this week’s other new arrival, the Perth winner Pale Rider. If the trainer was to visit the quarantine facility, located at the top of the Sha Tin straight, he would be unable to enter his own stables for a 24-hour period afterwards.
“We have our own staff there, they send me videos and we have a routine for the horses there,” he explained. “It’s pretty limited as to what they can do, they just hand walk a lot and are groomed, have a couple of meals a day and just keep their weight and everything in order so they don’t get too heavy, because they’re not exercising as they would be.”
The ideal scenario for Elzamee is to get him into the four-year-old races, towards the Derby.
Pale Rider was fairly exposed with 11 starts for two wins and was Group 2-placed at his last start for his previous trainer Ted Martinovich in the WATC Derby.
“Pale Rider looked quite a consistent horse,” said Fownes. “My clients bought him but they ran it by me and I checked the horse out. He was fairly-priced so we took the punt on it and he looks ok.
“The ideal scenario for Elzamee is to get him into the four-year-old races, towards the Derby. He’ll probably start with a rating in the mid-70s so if we can get him up into the high 80s, if he can win a race or two, he’ll be there. Unless you have a really strong year, normally you’ll have one or two in the Derby that are rated 100-plus but normally they’re in the 80s to 90s.”
Elzamee could be set for a Hong Kong Derby campaign. (Photo by George Sal/Racing Photos via Getty Images)
The pair arrived earlier this week on a flight from Australia which also included impressive last-start G3 Winx Guineas winner Majestic Colour. That gelding will join the Frankie Lor stable.
Akeed Mofeed famously won the Hong Kong Derby as a stallion after his high-profile, high price importation from Ireland. But that success was not easily achieved and took patient, expert handling by trainer Richard Gibson: the son of Dubawi was noticeably thick in the neck compared to his workmates and took two or three races to reach race fitness for his major wins.
Some other notable entires in Hong Kong in the past decade or so are the Group 1 winners Xtension, Dominant and the still active Panfield, a multiple Group 1 winner in South America as well as Hong Kong. For now, though, Sha Tin, Happy Valley and the more stallion-friendly Conghua facility remain very much the domain of geldings.
“Get me to the airport!” and why Hong Kong needs to preserve the sanctity of its summer breaks
GET 'MICHAEL COX ON MONDAY' DIRECT TO YOUR INBOX