Lucky Bubbles will attempt to snap a hoodoo at the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races on Sunday. The speedy chestnut has drawn gate one in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint, a starting berth from which no horse has triumphed in the 11 years since the race distance extended to 1200 metres.
Hugh Bowman is the jockey tasked with plotting a trouble-free route to victory from the rail-side barrier. The Australian ace partnered Lucky Bubbles through a smooth breeze of the all-weather track early this morning: shortly afterwards, he passed comment on the favourability of an inside gate.
“At the end of the day, we could have the inside draw and it could be the worst draw possible,” he said.
A couple of hours later, that line took on unwanted prescience.
“Draw one again! We had draw one last start. It’s no good,” trainer Francis Lui said after the official barrier draw was made late morning, referencing the G2 Jockey Club Sprint three weeks ago. On that occasion, Lucky Bubbles was trapped on the rail and finished an untested ninth under Zac Purton.
The best placing by a horse breaking from stall one in the Hong Kong Sprint came last year when Peniaphobia burst to the lead and held on for third. Lucky Bubbles’ connections can take heart though as the six-year-old went close from gate one over the Sha Tin 1200m when a neck second in the 2016 G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize.
And then there’s the matter of his big rival and likely race favourite Mr Stunning drawing four. No horse has won, or even placed second, from that berth either.
Lucky Bubbles’ workout this morning – clocked at 53.0s (28.6, 24.4) for the concluding 800m – also gave cause for optimism.
Lucky Bubbles and Hugh Bowman on Thursday morning, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
“He wasn’t out to break any records; he had his main gallop on Monday from what I understand, so he just stretched his legs. He felt good,” Bowman said.
“He’s certainly one of the leading chances on what I’ve seen so far. He’s a very straightforward horse, and he seems a very happy horse. He does have an incredible will to win and he doesn’t mix his form, he’s very consistent.”
Lucky Bubbles was second to Aerovelocity in last year’s LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint and went on to defeat Mr Stunning by a neck in this year’s Chairman’s Sprint Prize back in May. The latter was Bowman’s first and so far only race-ride on the six-year-old.
“At this level, he doesn’t have 10 pounds on his opposition, he can't do it all and win, but if he can just have something go his way and be there to pounce with a bit of fuel in the tank, he’s certainly one of the key players,” he said.
“I’m not concerned about whether he’s ready to go or not, Francis has done the work to get him ready, I’d just like to think we can get a nice, smooth run and have our chance. I’m sure he’ll run his race, given his chance.”
And with a final word on the draw, the soon-to-be-crowned LONGINES World’s Best Jockey said, “I drew well last year and was on the end of some significant interference. Really, until the race is run and won, it’s hard to know where the best place is going to be.”