In the midst of Asian Racing Conference debates and nasty falls to both Joao Moreira and Douglas Whyte, last weekend’s action almost slipped through the cracks, despite it being one of
Hong Kong’s biggest meetings of the season.
With that in mind, it’s time to turn our attention back to Sunday’s two Group One features at Sha Tin – the Centenary Sprint Cup over 1,200m and the Stewards’ Cup over 1,600m.
HONG KONG SHOULD ADOPT FRENCH PROTEST RULES
Tony Cruz was entitled to feel a bit upset after Peniaphobia was knocked over by eventual winner Aerovelocity in the Centenary Sprint Cup, but his diatribe after losing in the protest room smacked of a sore loser.
“To lose second like that and nothing happens – in France, that would be different,” the trainer said after the objection was thrown out, although Zac Purton later received a three-meeting suspension for careless riding.
“In France, if you interfere with one horse, you get put behind it. I don’t agree with the rule in Hong Kong, I never did. I rode all over the world and saw how the rules are in other places and, from my experience, the Hong Kong rule is the wrong one.”
Cruz did have plenty of success in France, there’s no doubt, but surely he is misguided here.
Firstly, the “Hong Kong rule” is also the Australian rule, the British rule, the Japanese rule. This approach, in which a horse can only be demoted if, on the balance of probabilities, it would have been beaten by the horse it interfered with, is adopted by the majority of the racing world. It is accepted to be the fairest method for all participants, particularly punters.
Instead, Cruz wants to adopt the French/American model in which the slightest bump can cause a horse to be taken down, even if they knock over a horse stuck in reverse.
It was a topic we already spent plenty of time covering after the St Leger and the Irish Champion Stakes debacle last year.
Don’t get me wrong – The Griffin pulled off an Eliza Doolittle imitation in cheering for Gold-Fun, so an upheld protest would have been welcomed.
But there was no way it was ever being upheld, and nor should it either.
It was a nasty scrimmage, sure, but it did not affect Peniaphobia’s finishing position. Racing incidents happen.
It happened to Aerovelocity in the 2014 Jockey Club Sprint when he was poleaxed and finished last. The winner that day? Peniaphobia.
Swings and roundabouts.
Was the incident bad? Yes. Did it cost Peniaphobia second place? Questionable. Did it cost him the win? Definitely not.
The right decision was made.
And, sorry Tony, the right set of rules is in place.
POOR PLANNING PLAGUES PENIAPHOBIA
While we’re at it, why do they keep pushing Peniaphobia forward?
I know, we are sounding like a broken record, but maybe it is time to try riding him cold again?
Has everyone forgotten the dazzling turn of foot he displayed when he was ridden with a sit in the past? He doesn’t have to go back to last, just settle him midfield. Give him a chance to use his best asset.
A timely reminder of how good a horse Peniaphobia is when ridden behind came from another horse completely – John Size’s debutant Mr Stunning at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.
Mr Stunning certainly proved he is aptly named with his scintillating first run, so much so that Alan Aitken has labelled the three-year-old a Group horse in the making in Friday’s black book column.
For The Griffin, coming up on three years in Hong Kong, it was the second best performance I have witnessed at Happy Valley. The best? Peniaphobia’s Class Three victory nearly two years back.
That night, he came from last off a hot tempo to win by a nose, but if ever he looked a top horse in the making, it was that night.
The black book column makes for good reading for comparisons between the two horses – especially now, given they continue to ride Peniaphobia forward.
No wonder the “breathing issues” rumour took hold earlier in the season – the thought being, strangle him in the early stages, and he is unlikely to perform.
However, if not, hopefully they will try it again just once. Give him one more chance.
Meanwhile, the decision to stay in Hong Kong and avoid the Al Quoz Sprint with Peniaphobia seems ludicrous, too.
The Al Quoz doesn’t look like being anything special this year, certainly not stronger than last year when he finished second to Sole Power.
Running in the Al Quoz and the Chairman’s Sprint Prize would be within the realms of possibility, particularly if Peniaphobia went into the Dubai race fresh.
Instead, Cruz is likely to only send Helene Super Star for the Sheema Classic – and while it would be a great story if the 2013 UAE Derby winner could return to win on turf, he would need to start yesterday.
JOHN SIZE CAN TRAIN, JUST A LITTLE BIT
Was Luger’s incredible effort to finish on the wrong end of a photo in the Stewards’ Cup the best training performance of John Size’s career?
It’s arguable, but what is without question is that it is the latest addition to a file with plenty of priors.
Think Luger in the Hong Kong Derby, with one mile run as a lead-up. And not only that, but the horse had the audacity to face the breeze and still prove strongest.
Think Glorious Days in the Hong Kong Mile, first-up off a 190-day break but hitting the line with no fitness qualms.
Think Entrapment, the effort racing editor Alan Aitken describes as the best of them all. The son of Halo Homewrecker won his first seven races for Size in 2010, rising from a rating of 52 to 115. But as he prepared to return, he was struck down by a mystery problem which saw him unable to properly control his left hind leg, leaving it dragging.
That he raced again was unbelievable. That he won first-up after 15 months on the sidelines, taking out the 2011 Sha Tin Sprint Trophy, was unfathomable.
There’s a pattern here, though – whatever the circumstances, Size is the ultimate conditioner. He has a knack for preparing a horse for a given race on a given day.
He said as much himself post-race, when he admitted that he didn’t think the horse would improve too much for the run.
Almost every other trainer in the world would say that the horse would improve significantly off such a long layoff. Not John Size.
Instead, he had the horse fit and primed for the Stewards’ Cup – and it almost paid off.