HONG KONG RACING
EXPERT RATINGS, TIPS & ANALYSIS
Michael Chang’s own journey from son of a mafoo in Happy Valley to trainer was amazing enough, but the unlikely sprint star Rich Tapestry then took him around the world.
Michael Chang grew up hearing the horses’ hooves click on Shan Kwong Road outside his bedroom window as they walked down the hill for trackwork at Happy Valley early each morning. Chang’s father Joe was a ‘mafoo’, a humble and hard-working Jockey Club stablehand. The youngster peering out of the family apartment window at those horses grew up to be a jockey and eventually a trainer in Hong Kong.
Chang’s dream was an unlikely one: to win a race in the United States and send a horse to the Breeders’ Cup, and when Rich Tapestry walked into his stable it looked even less likely this would be the horse that could deliver that dream.
Rich Tapestry’s only win in four starts for Dermot Weld was a Dundalk maiden over a mile and at his last start he had finished unplaced, beaten nearly nine lengths, in the mile-and-a-quarter Irish Derby Trial.
“He was bought for the Hong Kong Derby,” Chang told Asian Racing Report. “We kept putting him in mile and 1800m races but he just couldn’t stay. He had speed, but he would just stop quickly. I thought, ‘this horse is a sprinter’, but I never imagined he would be as good as he was.”
Brought back to shorter trips, Rich Tapestry’s rating was soon rocketing towards triple figures, but he was also on a collision course with a sprint division loaded with talent.
Rich Tapestry won the 2013 G2 Sprint Cup on the Sha Tin turf but when beaten into sixth in that year’s Hong Kong Sprint by the Japanese champion Lord Kanaloa, Chang knew his stable star had reached his limit.
“Obviously Lord Kanaloa was incredible, but it was also an era of very good sprinters in Hong Kong, and as good as my horse was he wasn’t going to beat them,” Chang explained. “So we came up with a plan.”
French jockey Olivier Doleuze had identified Rich Tapestry as a dirt star through his performances on Sha Tin’s ‘all-weather track’ – which isn’t an all-weather track at all, but rather a misnamed American-style dirt surface.
“Olivier was always telling me he had speed and loved the dirt, so he said ‘let’s try and go somewhere else’,” Chang said.
Chang and Doleuze identified Dubai’s ‘Tapeta’ track as ideal and Rich Tapestry justified their faith with a dominant win in the 2014 G3 Mahab Al Shimaal.
Unfortunately when it came to the G1 Golden Shaheen, the strong Hong Kong sprint form had followed them – it was also an era when Hong Kong horses took on the world – and they ran into John Moore’s Sterling City.
“Still, we weren’t too disappointed, in fact it was when he finished second to John’s horse that we knew we had the right horse for the real dream race,” Chang said. “When I was a little boy I was always watching American racing. And when the Breeders’ Cup came along that was the biggest racing event in the US, it was world famous. That became my dream, to take a horse there.
“Honestly, I am a small trainer, I have not had many good horses in my stable over the years so when I got the chance I talked to the owner, I thought he should go.”
Helping Chang’s planning was the fact he had spent a few weeks on a study trip when he was an assistant trainer, based at Santa Anita, which was to host the Breeders’ Cup that year.
There were no early-season dirt options in Hong Kong so it was decided Rich Tapestry would have a preparation run through the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint, but before the horse departed there was a ‘request’ from Jockey Club officials.
“They came to me and told me that it was fine that I go to America with him but I was not to use Lasix,” Chang said, referring to the controversial diuretic, commonly used in America, and a divisive issue in world racing.
Ever the ‘Club man’ – after all, his entire life had been surrounded by the Jockey Club – Chang agreed, even if that decision would later cost him with a horse with a history of bleeding. “The rules are the rules … the HKJC and the CEO want clean racing, no drugs. So I was told if you go to America, I was told, ‘No Lasix,” I have to accept it.”
The lack of Lasix didn’t stop Rich Tapestry producing one of the most legendary performances by a Hong Kong horse on foreign shores, Doleuze’s smart ride in a small field getting a first G1 by a nose margin.
“We made history,” Chang said. “He was the first Hong Kong-trained horse to win in the US, and he might be the last.”
The win had Rich Tapestry installed as a short-priced favourite for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint three weeks later.
The preparation had run smoothly but on race morning a sudden drop in temperature had Chang fearing the worst. “When the weather suddenly changed in the morning and it got colder, I knew,” he said. “When the temperature and air pressure drops like that I think they are more likely to bleed.”
Sure enough, Rich Tapestry finished tailed-off last on his big day and later scoped with substantial blood in his windpipe. It was a disappointing end to an amazing adventure for Chang and his team, which included “AT” Vincent Sit and mafoo Irving Chan.
“I felt guilty, he was a short-priced favourite and it was terrible it ended like that,” Chang said. “But we got our G1. Staying in Santa Anita for that month was an amazing experience. It was a lot of fun and we have great memories.”
The area near to Santa Anita racecourse, Arcadia, has a large Cantonese-speaking community and Chang’s favourite memory was a morning routine of visiting a local Hong Kong-style diner. “It was very authentic food, but huge portions and Mexican waiters – they didn’t speak any English but could speak Cantonese!”
Best of all, Rich Tapestry recovered and continued to travel the world, competing in Singapore and Japan, and heading back to Dubai, where he won a Group 3 and placed in another Golden Shaheen. Of Rich Tapestry’s final 12 starts, stretched over the next two-and-a-half years, only two of the gelding’s runs were at home at Sha Tin.
Rich Tapestry’s American odyssey only earned him around US$60,000: which might have covered the cost of the trip, but probably not the expenses from the lavish party thrown by connections back in Hong Kong upon their return.
Still, Chang would do it all again if he got the chance.
“He took me around the world .. Singapore, Japan and I have such great memories,” the 60-year-old said. “Maybe that was my one chance to go and race in America, but we took it and made history. If I got another horse that could do it, I would love to go again.”
EXPERT RATINGS, TIPS & ANALYSIS