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Jamie Richards’ string is making early strides down by the riverside

Hong Kong’s newest trainer is getting a handle on the logistics of training from Sha Tin’s Olympic Stables.

The main tracks at Sha Tin are open for business again after the annual two-week postseason shutdown and Jamie Richards has wasted no time in getting to know the ins and outs of training from the site’s Olympic Stables complex.

Hong Kong racing’s newest arrival has his horses stabled at the opposite end of the site from the main stable blocks – alongside Douglas Whyte and Michael Chang – and that locale requires the ‘Olympic horses’ to walk or trot the length of the back straight, hidden from view, down on the otherwise disused Riverside gallops, to reach the entrance to the track proper.

Richards shared a rare view of that daily journey on Saturday when he posted to social media two minutes and ten seconds of edited video, tracking three of his string from behind the wheel of his newest piece of training kit, an electric golf buggy.   

 

“I think that (route) has its positives and its negatives,” Richards said. “It’s a really good warm-up for them but then it’s quite a long walk home, so as long as we factor that into our training it should be no problem. We hope that walk home might allow them to just switch off and relax a little bit some days as well.”

The Olympic Stables complex was the subject of controversy in the past as previous incumbents Andreas Schutz, Sean Woods and David Ferraris expressed their dissatisfaction, notably at the lack of a swimming pool, as well as the distance to the track proper, and loud, dirty construction work at the nearby sports institute; but with the construction a thing of the past, a pool now in place and Whyte proving his Group 1 credentials from the facility, Richards is satisfied with where he is at.

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General view of the Olympic Stables at Sha Tin. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit /Getty Images)

“We’re very lucky to be here in Olympic Stables because the stables are pretty big, there’s plenty of room, and we’re really grateful to the Hong Kong Jockey Club for enabling us to train here, it’s a great opportunity,” Richards continued.

“We’re not as close to the entrance to the training tracks as the stables up the top end but we have the luxury of a bit more room here. We’ve got a nice straight swimming pool and an arena, so it’s all about balancing the positives and any negatives really.

“We’re very happy with how the horses are settling into the routine, and we’ll start to get a bit more serious in the next couple of weeks.”

We’re very happy with how the horses are settling into the routine, and we’ll start to get a bit more serious in the next couple of weeks.

Richards has been patient so far – his position was announced in December and he had to wait until July 17 to get to work – and that will continue with his training approach at first as he moves into his debut Hong Kong campaign with the long game in mind.

“We’ve only been training for 10 days so we’re going to be a little bit slow out of the blocks, but we’re bedding in and understanding Hong Kong and the training system and tracks and everything like that,” New Zealand’s three-time champion trainer said.

He and his team, which features his fiancée, former New Zealand champion jockey Danielle Johnson as work rider, are conditioning 44 horses at present. Thirty of those are stable transfers – seven from the retired Paul O’Sullivan – and 13 are horses imported as PPs or PPGs, unraced in Hong Kong.

“We’ve got about 25 in work now and we’ll have 35 on the go next week; we gradually upped it from seven or eight trotting the first week,” he said.

“We’re really happy with where the numbers are and we’ve got more fresh horses to arrive in due course. We’ll get to capacity fairly quickly.”

But it is the stable transfers within the Hong Kong system that is so often the key to a new trainer making it all work. Those horses often arrive in their new yards either fit and ready to go on, or out of form and down on relatively low marks, ripe for reinvigoration.

“The transfers have got a crucial part to play in the stable’s success in the early part of the season, particularly as the fresh horses need a bit of time to acclimatise and go through the trial system,” Richards noted.

“When some of the transfer horses started arriving and they were out of form after doing plenty of racing last season, we thought if we’re ever going to turn these horses around, they’re going to need a bit of a break, so we’ve given them a holiday.

“Hopefully we can get them to put a bit of weight on and that might just give us some fresh legs for the new season. Whether that’s right or wrong remains to be seen but that’s how we’ve done it and hopefully they will give us a bit of a kickstart when we decide to push the button.”

With 10 Class 5 gallopers among his number, and his top-rated horse being the 88-rated past Group 3 winner Buddies, now a seven-year-old, Richards currently has a line-up of ‘bread and butter’ horses. But, like everyone else, he is hoping to unearth some smart prospects from among the new PPs and PPGs.

Trainer Jamie Richards observing proceedings at Sha Tin Racecourse. (Photo by Getty Images)

“That’s where the new guy has got to start and we’re looking forward to seeing how it’s all going to go. It depends how some of these horses step up: I just don’t know what sort of quality we’ve got and some of them might improve as they go,” he said.

“We have a nice Xtravagant horse coming in from Sydney, a four-year-old called Sinba who I’m not sure yet if he’s a miler type or will get further. He obviously has to settle in and do things right but he profiles well.”

He also has the three four-year-olds he filmed for his ‘social’ followers: Tavistock’s Moonee Valley winner Benczkowski, now named Casa Como; the son of Maurice, who won a Sandown maiden when named Matsukaze for Chris Waller; and the Vancouver gelding, Stradale, known as Quicken Away when a winner for Nigel Tiley in New Zealand.

“We’re just feeling our way and no doubt we’ll make a few mistakes and we’ll have a few teething problems,” he added. “But if we can keep them to a minimum and kick off with a couple of nice horses when we do get going, hopefully that will give people a bit of confidence that we’ve settled in and we know what we’re doing.”

 

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