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INDEPENDENT HORSE RACING NEWS
Hong Kong’s newest Group 1 winner sold for a steal and was unconvincing in his first barrier trial but the New Zealand horse folk that nurtured him could always see what he might become.
“I didn’t sell him, I gave him away,” says Allan Sharrock, with a mirth so dry the words are punctuated with grains of grit.
The New Zealand horseman is telling Asian Racing Report about Hong Kong’s latest Group 1 winner, Lucky Sweynesse, a horse he co-bred – along with Luigi Muollo and Paul Dombrowski – and offered via Adrian Stanley’s Woburn Farm draft at the Ready To Run Sale a little more than two years ago. The now four-year-old, Hong Kong’s champion Griffin last year, has since banked HK$22.7 million (US$2.9 million) from 13 races, nine of them wins.
“We broke him in, ran him up; I thought a lot of him, he reminded me of Rough Habit as a foal, and I had a reserve on him of NZ$100,000; Joe Barnes approached me after the sale with 90,000 (about US$56,000) so I let him go,” Sharrock explains.
Barnes, of J & I Bloodstock, was on the lookout for a Hong Kong prospect and the bay, with a distinctive thin white stripe down his face, fit the order for the Cheng family, who had in their possession a Hong Kong Jockey Club PPG (Privately Purchased Griffin) permit, enabling them to import an unraced horse.
The youngster was sent to Shelley Hale, a six-to-eight-horse trainer based at Cambridge, who had already known success in nurturing a subsequent Hong Kong ‘name’ horse, the Classic Mile winner and multiple Group 1 placegetter Thumbs Up.
Thumbs Up (centre) wins the 2009 Hong Kong Classic Mile for Christophe Soumillon. (Photo by HKJC)
Michael Cheng and family were new clients but things did not start off as Hale had anticipated. The plan was a tried and tested one, used countless times by Kiwi conditioners for the Hong Kong sphere: prepare the horse expertly over a period of several months and top them off with a barrier trial or two, then send them on their way to Sha Tin.
“That first trial, it surprised us a bit because we knew before he went to the trials that he was pretty handy, but, yeah, the first one was a big learning curve. He was very green, he didn’t get in amongst them, he just sort of sat out the back and gawped a bit,” Hale recalls.
“I thought he was a really nice galloper so when he was last, or second-to-last, in that trial it was pretty gutting, especially for new clients, so I said to them at the time, ‘I’ve had some good horses, had some Group 1 winners and had Thumbs Up.’ Michael straight away pricked up his ears and said Thumbs Up was a very good horse and I said ‘well, this horse is somewhere similar in base ability,’ so I was pleased to get that one right.”
The first trial was at Cambridge on July 20, 2021, the second at Ellerslie 13 days later and it was a different scenario altogether.
“He won by more than six lengths: we just popped him out and put him on the speed, and he just lobbed and ran away from them,” Hale continues.
“He came to me in the December and he was a little bit hot from the breeze-up prep, so we just spent a lot of time relaxing him and as soon as we started working him along a bit he gave you a really good feel.”
So much so that Hale had a shot at talking Cheng into letting her keep the horse for a New Zealand three-year-old campaign.
“With Covid and whatnot at the time they wouldn’t have been able to watch him race, and then of course they had a PPG permit, he was a Griffin, so he went. I think it was set in stone that he would end up with Manfred Man, but it was lovely to prepare him and we’ve got another horse now for the Chengs,” she says.
Lucky Sweynesse, Champion Griffin of Hong Kong. (Photo by HKJC)
Lucky Sweynesse ridden by Clifford Brierley who identified the horse's talent early in his education, March 2021. (Photo supplied)
Hale has not been a regular conditioner for Hong Kong but the New Zealand thoroughbred industry generally relies on that market, as well as Australia, to keep business rolling along.
“Hong Kong is immensely important,” says Sharrock. “We are a pretraining country for the likes of Australia and Hong Kong, to be fair. My brother (Bruce Sharrock) is CEO of New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing and down here we’re trying to get things in place so that the stakes increase, because unless they do, we’ve got to sell our better horses. It’s just the way of the world.”
Hale knows all about that. She bred Thumbs Up and had no intention to sell but, she says, “The offers just came and came and came, to the level where it was hard to knock it back.”
Not that Hale or Sharrock is complaining about their lot. Sharrock in fact might have been ‘robbed’ at the Ready To Run but he is sitting pretty now as part-owner of a proven producer in Lucky Sweynesse’s dam Madonna Mia.
“Fortunately for us, me and Luigi own the mare 50-50 and we go foal for foal with her, so thankfully we still have the mother and he’s making her into a blue hen,” Sharrock says.
Lucky Sweynesse as a foal with his dam Madonna Mia. (Photo supplied)
Muollo stands Lucky Sweynesse’s sire Sweynesse at Novara Park Stud.
Madonna Mia had already produced the talented Signora Nera the year before lucky Sweynesse was foaled. Sharrock trained that full-sister to two wins before she moved on to Chris Waller in Australia and placed third in the G1 Queensland Oaks over 2200 metres.
“That mare has only had two to the races and they’ve both had Group 1 form so the family is going forward,” says Sharrock. “She’s now in foal to Sweynesse for Luigi and next year I go again and breed from her again; we’re just praying for a filly because we want to retain the filly. She’s only had the one filly and that was Signora Nera and it’s a family that’s exploding all around.”
Sharrock has a Contributor half-brother to Lucky Sweynesse in the paddock at his Taranaki base and that colt, whose ‘value has increased immensely’ will likely head to the Ready To Run Sale next November where, no doubt, Hong Kong interest will be piqued.
As for Joe Barnes getting another bargain?
“I told him,” Sharrock laughs. “You won’t be stealing this one off me, old son.”
Manfred Man has a star on his hands but the clock is ticking out
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