Kranji trainer Stephen Gray walked alongside the track at Sha Tin on Monday, which he has done many times in the past on one of his and wife Bridget’s regular visits to the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races, but this walk was different.
Gray was following the progress of his stable runner Lim’s Cruiser (AUS) working on the All Weather track in warm conditions under blue autumn skies.
Lim’s Cruiser will race on Saturday in the HK$20m, Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and Gray had every reason to be savouring the moment of having a runner from his Singapore stable on the international stage again.
“It is always good to be here, but it is better to have a horse,” he said.
“I think it is good, it is good for Singapore to have a horse that is good enough to come, and we are pretty proud of it.
“It has always been a dream ambition to have a horse that was good enough to run in Hong Kong. I took Emperor Max to Royal Ascot a couple of years ago and that was a fantastic trip. To have one good enough to come here, which we planned and then to be accepted, so the timing is good,” he said.
Gray's hope, Lim's Cruiser (AUS) on the Sha Tin All Weather track on Monday, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
That planning including keeping the six-year-old Casino Prince gelding to sprinting. Lim’s Cruiser was actually bought to be a Derby runner, but 2000m was not his stretch, and Gray turned him back to the shorter course.
Gray’s planning included just three races at Kranji this year. A third first up in April in the SG2 Merlion Trophy over 1200m was followed by a win in May in the SG1 Lion City Cup over 1200m. The third race was a win in the Kranji Stakes A, again over 1200m on November 20th.
“He is a sit back sprinter, but he probably could run a mile if ridden quietly. In Singapore and Asian racing you have three and four-year-old series so that is what you go for. So it becomes push to those situations and we followed the four-year-old series, but the distance was just too much,” said Gray.
“We are realistic. It will be very hard for him to win, but he is a good horse and we are not here just to eat the noodles you know.
“At the end of the day this is what racing is about, for my stable, my family, my parents and 18 years of hard work in Singapore to get a horse to come to Hong Kong. It is probably the best chance we have had since Rocket Man.
“We are pretty proud and honoured to be here, whatever the result will be.
“I have sat here every year and wanted to have a horse that was good enough,” he said.
Gray now has just that.
Hugh Bowman rides on Sunday and Lim’s Cruiser goes to the race with a record of eight wins from 20 starts and with seven placings he has earned stakes of HK$9.9m for Lim’s Stables.