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When Hong Kong owner Derek Tam took on Joyful Fortune, it was as a project to find the sprinter a nice home and purpose in life, not a slot in the world’s richest race on turf.
Derek Tam is sitting in a Hong Kong cafe and living the Australian racing dream.
Aquis has offered his one-time cast-off sprinter Joyful Fortune a slot in the AU$15 million Everest at Randwick on October 15.
Tam’s head is still spinning: a little over a week ago Joyful Fortune had won a Benchmark 70 sprint at Flemington after 14 months away from racing. It is a year since he took responsibility for a horse he thought may never return to the racetrack. Now Tam part-owns an Everest runner.
“I am just some guy in Hong Kong, who took on a retired horse, and now has a chance to run in the world’s richest sprint,” Tam told Asian Racing Report. “And it is all because we did the right thing by this horse.”
“We hear it in the racing industry, and it is true, you do the right thing for horses, they will do the right thing by you.”
Joyful Fortune’s journey from retirement paddock to Everest outsider is astounding but at the centre of the story is a seriously talented horse. The gelding was once the most talked about young sprinter in Hong Kong; in fact no horse had ever gone faster up the Sha Tin straight on debut than when the then-three-year-old clocked a blistering 55.07s for 1000m in July 2020.
Soundness issues, compounded by Hong Kong’s relatively firm tracks, meant that Joyful Fortune won just one of his subsequent six starts and was retired.
That is where Tam stepped in: he has extensive experience racing and rehoming former Hong Kong horses in Australia and was approached about moving the horse Down Under to be rehabilitated.
Joyful Fortune required knee chip surgery on both of his front legs before he was shipped and there were further delays due to Covid. The horse did not arrive in Australia until November 2021 and when he did was in such poor condition that trainers passed on the prospect of taking on the project.
“We sent him to GT Park Spelling Farm, who I had worked with before, but the expectation wasn’t necessarily to race,” Tam said. “The foundation of this success is that our first aim was to nurse this horse back to health, it could be to the racetrack, but it could have also been to the police force, a riding horse or dressage, it just depended on his destiny. I just wanted to give him a chance to fulfill that.
“That goes for all of my horses though; I want to give every horse that comes into my path a chance, not just to live but to live the life they deserve.”
Four rejuvenating summer months at Kulnura on the Central Coast of New South Wales, combined with GT Park’s expertise and a special diet the facility has developed for retired Hong Kong horses had Joyful Fortune put on condition.
“He was very light when he got here,” GT Park owner Mark Towell said. “Derek has sent a lot of Hong Kong horses to us and there is a bit of a trick to getting the condition back on them. We have developed a special non-grain feed specifically for them.”
Joyful Fortune put on an impressive 70 kilograms and gave Tam a better looking photo to show trainer Mark Newnham, with whom he has a long association.
Mark Newnham was pleasantly surprised when his new recruit beat home multiple Group 1 winner and Everest slotholder Eduardo in a Randwick trial in August.
Another winning trial showed Joyful Fortune was sound and ready for a return to the races, after which Newnham picked out an 1100m sprint down the Flemington straight.
“After the win is when I really started dreaming big,” Tam said. “I know it is only a Benchmark 70, but I believe, as an owner, my job is to dream as big as you can. I thought, well, if he has enough talent to do what he did first start in Hong Kong, and do what he did in a trial against Eduardo and then back it up with this then why not? If you don’t ask, you won’t know. So I decided to chase a slot.”
The reception was cool when Tam shopped his horse to one slot holder, but that same afternoon the owner was on Hong Kong’s subway and he received a message from Newnham: Aquis had identified Joyful Fortune as a runner and a deal had been proposed to Tam and his racing partner Peter Coffey.
“Of course we were excited, and maybe people think we don’t have much of a chance, but he likes soft ground and one thing he brings is that X-factor. The other horses that are still available, it has been proven they can’t beat Nature Strip, Eduardo, Masked Crusader or Mazu, but we bring something different.”
Adding to Tam’s and Coffey’s dream is the distinct possibility of a rain-affected surface for The Everest.
“He is a proven performer now on a wet track, and with all the rain in Sydney there is a good chance it will be soft, if not heavy, next month,” he said. “You need a horse that can perform in those conditions. He trialed very well at Randwick, he beat one of Australia’s best sprinters and a multiple Group 1 winner Eduardo in that trial. Second trial he won convincingly as well, so it showed that the first trial wasn’t a fluke.”
What connections are most excited about is Joyful Fortune’s raw ability.
— Hong Kong Racing (@HongKong_Racing) July 5, 2020
“When the horse won on debut in record time down the Sha Tin straight, people were already talking about him being a Hong Kong Sprint contender. Maybe he has that kind of talent in him and just needs the right set of circumstances to unleash it,” Tam said.
Tam has raced many horses in Australia and is a realist, he knows Joyful Fortune will start a rank outsider against an all-time great in Nature Strip. He also knows that whatever happens next on Joyful Fortune’s journey is a bonus. “Getting this horse back to his best is what matters most,” Tam said. “It is a great honour to be involved with a horse that’s running in The Everest. Whatever happens from now on, we have already won.”
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