Hong Kong’s weather continues to play its backdrop to the lead-up for Sunday’s LONGINES Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin and trackwork was once again bathed in early winter sunshine on Wednesday.
The course itself was thronged with industry participants from all corners of the globe as the international runners used the All-Weather, Turf and Parade Ring as practice.
The HKJC trackwork livecasts are shown each day now through to the weekend from approximately 8.45am HK time on Twitter via Periscope or through this link - http://campaigns.hkjc.com/hkir/en/multimedia-live-cast - and they are well worth checking into.
Many have travelled far to be out and about at Sha Tin this week, but Sir Michael Stoute’s Smart Call (SAF) might have the edge on the rest of the international runners as she has not only come from her home country South Africa, but she has spent months in quarantine en route to the UK and then the trek to Hong Kong.
The six-year-old Ideal World mare is owned by a patient Jessica Slack. After no less than three Group 1 victories in South Africa under Alex Laird’s care, including the 2016 The Met over 2000m at Kenilworth in January, she was dispatched to Stoute’s Newmarket stables. Due to the length of quarantine the South African-bred’s must endure it was May 2017 before she reappeared again.
In five appearances from a third in the Group 2 Middleton Stakes over 2051m at York to a sixth in the Group 2 Blanford Stakes over 2000m at the Curragh in September the mare has not won, but has shown courage racing at the top level in different conditions.
Smart Call exercised on the Turf course on Wednesday and looked relaxed and comfortable, it can be difficult travelling mares, but a relaxed mind set certainly helps and all that travelling experience will have assisted this mare.
The females can win at the HKIR with ten fillies and mares winning over the 30 previous meetings, the latest being the wonderful Snow Fairy back in 2010.
Smart Call has a tough task however, with this year’s renewal of the HK$18m, Group 1 Hong Kong Vase (2400m) a good field that might end up ranking as one of the best over the distance this year anywhere in the world.
Smart Call (SAF) on the turf, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
The Vase field includes the Willie Mullins trained Max Dynamite (FR), heading home after so nearly clipping the win ticket in the 2017 Group 1 Melbourne Cup over 3200m at Flemington back on November 7th.
An O’Brien trained gang tackle in the form of Rekindling and Johannes Vermeer prevented a win in the world famous handicap and he was third to go with his second in 2015 version of the race.
The near veteran seven-year-old Great Journey gelding is an advertisement for adventure, travel and never giving up just because there are youngsters ahead. On Monday he came out on the All-Weather as bright and cheerful as can be. He bounced around checking out the scene and thoroughly enjoying himself.
Wednesday he belied his age and demonstrated dash and speed with a serious gallop on the Turf. Officially he ran 1200m in 1m 26.8s (31.2, 31.6, 24.0) with his last 200m in 11s. It was strong and impressive work.
David Casey, rider and assistant to Mullins, said: “He’s well, he’s in good form and there's no problem with how he’s taken the trip. I was pleased with his work this morning.”
Sunday’s rider Glyn Schofield watched from the grandstand as his mount thundered past under Casey and he remarked on the strength of the work.
Max might find the distance a tad short, but the Sha Tin straight is long and mid-race speed would help pull him into the sharp end and he certainly will not be stopping.
Like the mare Smart Call he is enjoying his time and the ideal weather and they will acquit themselves well as a result on Sunday no matter where they finish. It will be a pleasure to watch.
Max Dynamite (FR) enjoying himself again on the All-Weather on Wednesday, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club