Golden Slipper day is always a feature of the Sydney autumn carnival, the only race day in Australia that has five Group 1 races on the card.
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The Australian flag may be flying high at Sha Tin today, but it is highly unlikely it will be thanks to an Australian-trained winner of one of the four Hong Kong international features.
Two Australian-trained horses run in Hong Kong today, Rob Heathcote-trained Buffering in the Hong Kong Sprint and David Hayes’ new stable acquisition Criterion in the Hong Kong Cup.
For both, though, Hong Kong punters are a bit wary of how they will measure up.
Last night, Buffering was at $77 on the Hong Kong tote. In Australia, he is $12 fixed. His right price? In a race where he looks the logical speed with little pressure, but also where there look others in better form, it’s probably somewhere in the middle.
Criterion is a different story. He is also $12 fixed but only at $20 on the Hong Kong tote. His price should arguably be bigger than Buffering’s price, because Buffering probably has a better chance, but Buffering also meets a tougher and more open field.
It might have to be a case of claiming horses that aren’t Australian-trained but have raced in Australia, much like we claim Phar Lap, Crowded House and pavlova from New Zealand. So, we can then claim the likes of Red Cadeaux, Farraaj and Gordon Lord Byron as Aussies at heart.
Still, it’s not all bad for Australian racing. The hottest favourite of the four international races is likely to be Able Friend, who was $1.30 on the Hong Kong tote and $1.75 fixed in Australia for the Hong Kong Mile.
Able Friend is an Australian-bred galloper, by Shamardal out of Ponte Piccolo, who was bought by trainer John Moore’s son George at the 2011 Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale. He began his career in Sydney, finishing second on debut at Rosehill before winning at Wyong. It’s a long trek from a Wyong maiden to an international Group One winner, but Able Friend looks a champion-in-waiting and anything bar a comfortable victory would be a disappointment.
Other notable Australian-bred gallopers include last year’s Hong Kong Mile winner Glorious Days, another Mile contender in Secret Sham and Sprint contenders Sterling City, Golden Harvest, Smart Volatility and Flagship Shine.
The Australian flag is more likely to fly for Zac Purton, who has plum rides like Military Attack (Cup), Aerovelocity (Sprint) and World Ace (Mile). The rider still doesn’t get the plaudits he deserves back home, despite the enormity of his feat to win Hong Kong’s jockeys’ championship and his exploits on Admire Rakti and Sacred Falls during the spring. Perhaps victory today might change that viewpoint.
It’s also important to remember that leading trainer John Moore is an Australian expatriate, albeit one who has been in Hong Kong for many years. Moore, the son of legendary jockey George, has one of the strongest hands any trainer has ever boasted at an international meeting.
He has the favourites in the Cup and the Mile (Designs On Rome and Able Friend respectively), as well as leading Sprint hope Sterling City and last year’s Vase winner Dominant. In the Cup, Mile and Sprint, too, he has second-stringers – Same World, Secret Sham and Flagship Shine.
It’s not just the four Group One races, though, where Australia can salute. Keep an eye on the last race, where Rosehill Guineas runner-up Thunder Fantasy makes his Hong Kong debut. Who knows – in 12 months time, he could be back here aiming for one of the features.