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BRINGING ASIAN RACING TO THE WORLD
Two of Hong Kong’s most prominent owners have the first and second favourites for Australia’s most famous race but one is looking to scale back his buying in Europe and Australasia to reduce costs.
There is a hint of timely good fortune already about this year’s Melbourne Cup, from a Hong Kong standpoint at least. Just as two Hong Kong owners find their horses heading the betting for Australia’s greatest race, so the city’s isolating Covid travel policy is eased back, enabling freer travel in and out.
Bon Ho Ka-kui has the favourite, the British-trained Deauville Legend; Edmond Lee Man Bun has the market second pick, Loft, from Germany. Both owners and their horses highlight the international scope of two of Hong Kong’s most prominent players as they spread their nets wide to source horses, not only with the intent to relocate them to Hong Kong but also to consciously target major races abroad.
Lee, in his own words, has “been sending European stayers to Australia to run” for a number of years and has been rewarded in seeing Spillway and Harlem (twice) carry his blue and white hooped silks for wins in the G1 Australian Cup.
Meanwhile, Ho has ramped up his overseas ownership in recent years on the back of Southern Legend’s Group 1 exploits in Asia. He now has 60 horses in Australia, while a further 15 have raced this year in Britain and Ireland, but, with a couple also active in Hong Kong, that might be the peak of it.
“I will have to cut the numbers,” Ho told Asian Racing Report, and as a chartered accountant he knows all about what adds up and what does not. The US$7.5 million or so Southern Legend earned and the near US$6 million his Everest winner Classique Legend has accrued will only go so far even for a man of his apparent wealth.
2020 Everest winner Classique Legend. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)
“I’ll try to get the numbers down everywhere but it’s very difficult. It’s a lot of money for training and some of them are not up to the standard that I would like; I’ll try not to upset the trainers, I’ve got to be very diplomatic about how to scale the numbers down but the best thing for me to control the numbers is to buy less in the future. That’s for the future.”
Back in May Ho tweeted about the state of racing in Britain: “Prize money is next to nothing while training cost is comparable or higher than Australia. Why would anyone want to keep owning a horse there, I ask myself.”
But he knows that if you want to buy a quality stayer, Europe is still the place to go looking. Through his long-time agent Mark McStay, he picked up Deauville Legend as a yearling from Arqana for €200,000 (US$200,000) and sent him to be trained in Newmarket.
The James Ferguson-trained Northern Hemisphere-bred three-year-old has found Cup favouritism off a series of classy efforts in his age bracket in England, notably a last-start win in the G2 Great Voltigeur Stakes over 2400 metres at York.
Deauville Legend powers clear of the field in the Group 2 Sky Bet Great Voltigeur Stakes and is more group success for James Ferguson and Daniel Muscutt. 🥇@SkyBet @jamesferguson89 @D_Muscutttt pic.twitter.com/pNpEB8nJFR
— York Racecourse (@yorkracecourse) August 17, 2022
Sydney’s superstar rider James McDonald will ride Loft at Flemington while Kerrin McEvoy will be on Deauville Legend, despite the latter having been ridden in his last six races by Danny Muscutt. Ho has taken a rational approach in giving McEvoy the mount this time.
“Kerrin has won the Melbourne Cup three times so it was logical and quite an easy decision,” the owner said. “He has helped me a lot in Australia, riding trackwork in the mornings and riding at least 50 per cent of all my horses in races. I trust him a lot.
“But when this horse goes back to the UK or goes to run in other international races in other jurisdictions, I’d get Daniel Muscutt to ride him, that’s only fair to him.”
James McDonald teamed up with Loft at Flemington trackwork on October 25. (Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)
There are no plans for Loft or Deauville Legend to end up full-time in Hong Kong given the lack of staying opportunities there, but for all of their international outlook, Hong Kong is still the core for Ho and Lee.
Ho’s first horse, Got It Made, was an Irish PPG sourced by McStay’s mother, Clodagh McStay, and was owned in partnership with Stephen Chang Tso-tung. He won six races in Hong Kong up to Class 1 from 1994 to 1996. Ho was in his early 30s then, a partner with Ernst & Young.
Nowadays his red and white ‘offshore’ silks are as famous as his gold and brown Hong Kong colours, which initially were synonymous with the ‘Sichuan’ prefix because ‘that’s where I worked’ but have since switched to a ‘Legend’ suffix that has served him so well.
As for Lee, his father owned horses from about 1990 and then he followed on, buying his first yearling at age 23. The family’s wealth comes from the paper and packaging business Lee and Man Paper Manufacturing Ltd, hence several of his horses having ‘Packing’ in their Hong Kong-registered names.
Edmond Lee's The Irishman scores at Sha Tin. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit/Getty Images)
Both men are hoping but neither dare expect success on the first Tuesday in November.
“This season is very strange because usually Coolmore will send something, or Godolphin, or the Japanese, and we have none of those,” Lee noted. “But that doesn’t make it easier: you need to pick the right horse, then it must pass the vet check, which is very serious for the Melbourne Cup, but you just have to go with the flow.”
Ho is not taking anything for granted with Deauville Legend. “Favourite or not,” he said, “it’s quite a challenge. I was told in previous years three-year-olds carry 51 or 52 kilos and this time around he’s carrying 55, so he’ll be quite a horse if he can pull this one off.”
Ho’s full Christian name is Boniface, suggested to him for his Christening by a Catholic priest. The name, old Anglo-Saxon, means one of good fortune or good fate.
Come Tuesday, while Lee and his Hong Kong supporters root for Loft, Ho and the mass of Melbourne Cup favourite backers will be hoping that the priest’s naming proves to be a lucky portent.
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