Luck of the draw favours Circuit Land and Lucky Year in Seoul

Hong Kong aspirations to retain a perfect record in Korea received a boost on Thursday after Circuit Land drew gate three for the KOR G1 Keeneland Korea Cup (1800m, sand) and Lucky Year landed barrier four for the KOR G1 Keeneland Korea Sprint (1200m, sand), both to be run at Seoul’s LetsRun Park racecourse on Sunday.

The Danny Shum-trained pair are Hong Kong’s second and third runners on the Korean peninsula, following in the footsteps of Tony Millard’s sprinter Super Jockey, who won the inaugural running of the Korea Sprint in 2016.

Shum was still en route to Seoul during Thursday’s barrier draw, as was rider Nash Rawiller, but the trainer’s assistant Jimmy Ting – who has overseen both Circuit Land and Lucky Year since they arrived on 29 August – expressed delight with the gates drawn for both horses.

“It’s very good, we couldn’t ask for much more,” Ting said immediately after the draw at Seoul’s Coex Convention Centre on Thursday. “I think draws three and four are the best here. If you are in one or two, if you miss the start, you get the kickback. Just outside of that, you can push forward if you jump well but if you don’t, there is still a chance to stay out of the kickback.”

Circuit Land canters on Thursday morning in preparation for the Korea Cup, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club

Missing the start is a particular concern for Circuit Land, who has played up in the gates in the past, including one notable incident in last year’s Class 1 Panasonic Cup Handicap (1400m, turf) where he was considerably slow to begin.

In an attempt to familiarise both Circuit Land and Lucky Year with the starting gates, Ting took both horses through the barriers during an easy morning of work on Thursday.

“I didn’t want them to jump out and run, I just wanted to get them used to standing in there,” he said. “They jumped and went 50 metres or so, not far. It was teaching them, particularly Circuit Land, that he needs to break cleanly. If he stands in the gates too long, he gets up, so hopefully he is not standing in there for too long.

“Circuit Land has got back in his races before but I think this time he will need to be more forward. I think he will sit up third or fourth, he has been sitting closer recently and running well and I think he needs to do that on this surface.”

Ting said Circuit Land had taken the trip harder than Lucky Year, but that he was back to his regular self now, weighing in at around 1035lb – on par with his optimum racing weight.

“He only showed a little bit of a temperature when he first arrived but his blood picture was good and he’s fine now,” Ting said. “He missed a piece of work early and he left some feed, but he bounced back, he’s been in full training since and he is back to normal with his weight.

“Lucky Year, he couldn’t have taken the trip much better, the horse is very good. He’s happy here and the concerns for us are that it is his first time on sand and his first time (racing) the other direction. When I have ridden him in the mornings, he hasn’t really handled the turn that well but maybe in a race he will be better – especially now that he has horses drawn outside him.”

Shum regularly gallops horses in pairs and that will not change in Seoul, with Lucky Year and Circuit Land to have their final hit-out together on the deep sand surface in the early hours of Friday morning (8 September).

“Tomorrow, Nash will come and ride Lucky Year and I will ride Circuit Land, they will work together on the track,” he said. “These two horses can work well together I think, even though one is a sprinter and one gets over further. They are both good horses and they can run time so they can test each other.

“Obviously, the surface is something we don’t know about for both horses, but I think from what I have felt on them in trackwork, they should be able to handle it. It’s just like running on a wet track, it’s very deep, and in the mornings both feel comfortable.”

Circuit Land faces 10 rivals in the KRW1 billion (approximately US$885,000) Korea Cup, including last year’s winner Chrysolite, one of two runners from Japan; French pair Nimr and Skiperia; American representative Papa Shot; and five locals, headed by last year’s placegetter Triple Nine.

Lucky Year heads a field of 15 as he aims to keep the Korea Sprint in Hong Kong hands. Among his opponents are Singapore’s Wimbledon, Japanese galloper Graceful Leap, The Truth Or Else for the United States and 11 local runners, including 2016 Korean Triple Crown winner Power Blade.

Both races will be available for betting in Hong Kong on Sunday. The Korea Sprint will be run at 2.30pm, between Sha Tin races four and five, while the Korea Cup comes up at 3.35pm, between Sha Tin races six and seven.