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BRINGING ASIAN RACING TO THE WORLD
The numbers are becoming compelling when it comes to 'quiet achiever' Damian Lane in the ‘world’s best jockey’ discussion, as the Australian star continues to make giant strides in Japan.
When the world’s best jockey debates begin the usual list of names includes Ryan Moore, James McDonald, Hugh Bowman and Zac Purton. Maybe it is his calm demeanor, but Damian Lane is often seen as something of a ‘quiet achiever’ and an outsider when it comes to that world’s best debate.
After another massive weekend to start his mid-year stint in Japan, maybe it is time to take a more serious look at Lane’s statistics by comparison with some of his contemporaries.
Last year Lane became the second fastest jockey of all time to reach 100 wins in the Japan Racing Association (427 rides). Ahead of him was Joao Moreira, who took just 294 rides but compiled his record mostly on the weaker summer circuit at Sapporo.
Lane has used his three months per year to ride during the toughest periods, chasing big race success against the best.
Damian Lane throttles down Win Marilyn after a dominant Hong Kong Vase victory. (Photo by HKJC)
Damian Lane wins the G3 Red Sea Turf at Riyadh aboard Japanese raider Silver Sonic. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)
Behind Lane on the ‘fastest to 100’ are some names regularly included in the best debate: Moore (528) and Olivier Peslier (607). Even Japanese-based foreign stars Christophe Lemaire (869) and Mirco Demuro (619) lag well behind the Australian.
Last weekend Lane rode six winners from 14 rides and now has 117 JRA winners at an outstanding strike rate of 23.6 per cent.
That 117 winners matches Moreira’s career total in Japan and although Lane’s strike rate of 23.6% is short of the Magic Man’s extraordinary 32.2%, the difference in prize money won illustrates the calibre of horses Lane has ridden. Lane’s mounts have won a total of 3.2 billion Yen compared to Moreira’s 1.7 billion.
It will remain one of the great ‘what ifs’ in Hong Kong racing history: what if Lucky Sweynesse had taken a shot at the 2023 four-year-old series?
The question may take on even greater meaning should Lucky Sweynesse – now Hong Kong’s premier sprinter – head to Japan for one of the toughest Group 1 miles in world racing, the G1 Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo on June 4.
Lucky Sweynesse has been entered for the Yasuda Kinen but will first contest next weekend’s Group 1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize on Champions Day at Sha Tin. Based on that performance, owners – with input from trainer Manfred Man and jockey Zac Purton – will decide whether or not to take Hong Kong’s highest rated four-year-old abroad for the first time.
Should they decide to accept the overseas challenge, it would also be the first time Lucky Sweynesse has raced beyond 1400m, which brings to mind the aforementioned hypothetical: how would Lucky Sweynesse have fared in the four-year-old series?
Let’s start with the Hong Kong Classic Mile, which was won by the eventual Hong Kong Derby hero Voyage Bubble. Lucky Sweynesse was at that time already rated 125 courtesy of a dominant win in the G3 Chinese Challenge Cup 1400m on January 1.
Alexis Badel drives home Voyage Bubble to snatch the Hong Kong Derby. (Photo by Grant Courtney)
Lucky Sweynesse wins the G1 Centenary Sprint Cup. (Photo by HKJC)
Connections were rewarded for sticking to the sprints with a Group 1 win next start but given the leisurely tempo the Classic Mile was run at, surely Lucky Sweynesse would have been competitive. Cordyceps Six – a horse that Lucky Sweynesse has the measure of – even ran home for fifth.
We may never truly know how Lucky Sweynesse would have handled that series but we could find out in early June in a much tougher mile race.
Hong Kong horses have been regular visitors to the Yasuda Kinen since the mid-1990s and two have triumphed in Tokyo: Fairy King Prawn in 2000 and Bullish Luck back in 2005.
The last 18 years have been tougher though. Overall, the visitors’ stats make for hard reading: Hong Kong-trained horses are two from 38 in the race (with an average finishing position of 12th) and none have even placed in 23 starts since Bullish Luck’s famous win.
Even Japan’s best have found the race hard to win: among the recent champions to be beaten in the Yasuda Kinen are Maurice – rolled as short-priced favourite in 2016 – and Almond Eye twice (2019 and 2020).
Maybe it is a good year to try given the Japanese milers do not look to be a particularly strong vintage. Last year’s Yasuda Kinen winner Songline has been beaten in two starts since, latterly when 10th over 1351m in the Turf Sprint in Saudi, while the runner-up Schnell Meister has not won since and contests an uninspiring Group 2 Milers Cup at Kyoto this Sunday.
First things first: Lucky Sweynesse needs to handle his business as odds-on favourite a week Sunday.
This year’s Hong Kong Derby was notable for the fact that each of the runners was rated between 80 and 100, but the relatively low ratings of the group seems to be holding them in good stead as they step out into the handicaps again.
Last week the Derby ninth-placegetter Encountered won a Class 2 at Happy Valley off a rating of 83 and this Sunday four more unplaced Derby runners return in an 1800m Class 2, each of them down in the weights.
Four-year-olds Sword Point (89, sixth in Derby), Sweet Encounter (86, seventh), Beautyverse (85, 12th) and Straight Arron (84, fifth) could all have some upside at the handicaps.
Straight Arron burst into Derby prominence with a first-up win for Caspar Fownes after a stable transfer from David Hayes.
Straight Arron's impressive as! 🔥
The Australian import keeps his @BMW Hong Kong Derby hopes alive under @blake_shinn for Caspar Fownes. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/aujOeoGEVk
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) February 26, 2023
He made good ground for fifth in the slowly run Derby, clocking the second fastest final 400m in the race.
Sword Point was my pick in the Derby, a race that wasn’t run to suit his style, and I am sticking with him on Sunday.
R7 No.9 Blue Marlin
R8 No.4 Thesis
R10 No.7 Sword Point
How the 2023 Hong Kong Derby was won: Alexis Badel breaks down his stunning ride on Voyage Bubble
‘Majime’ – The Japanese word that defines Damian Lane’s success
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