• Alan Aitken

Beware the knee jerk reaction to Sunday's G2 wins - are they the HKIR heroes?



If history teaches us anything about Sunday's two Group Two rehearsals at Sha Tin for the international day showstopper, it's that they need more rehearsal.

Last year was something of a watershed - not only did the Sha Tin Trophy winner, Beauty Generation (left), win the Longines HK Mile, the Premier Bowl winner, Mr Stunning also managed to land the main prize in December in the HK Sprint. That happens rarely in singles, but to have both go on to December with success was a history maker.

The prep runs for the Longines Hong Kong International Races (HKIR) are a working example of why we pay more attention to the lead-ups that are closest to the main event.

The races on the October 1, National Day program, when the some of the big names return from their summer holiday, have tended to be red herrings going forward. Many National Day winners have not won another race until months later - more than a few never won again - and Dashing Fellow's eclipse of Mr Stunning & Co. last year proved a false lead.

That's an interesting historical perspective on Hot King Prawn for Sunday after he downed G1 winner Ivictory in the National Day Cup this year, but it's an unfair one too, as we had seen Dashing Fellow very well explored and unexceptional before his win while Hot King Prawn has a picket fence strike rate and a light career to date with still plenty of blue sky to it.

Sunday's G2 Sha Tin Trophy and Premier Bowl tend to be more meaningful for the internationals, and they are an integral part of the puzzle for the two international events that Hong Kong has always dominated in December, the HK Mile and HK Sprint.

But there's a quirk - the December winners are often there but usually aren't the winners in October.


Two things stand out in the Sha Tin Trophy - a lack of favourite wins in the recent past and the number of winners carrying big weights. The topweighted runners in these major handicaps in Hong Kong do not find it easy, just as the handicaps in all the classes genuinely bring the best performed runners back to the field. This race has been an exception though, with a decent peppering of the results with 130-plus handicap winners.On the favourite front, only 2 outright favourites have won the race in the last 27 years - Contentment in 2015 and Gold-Fun two years earlier.

In the Premier Bowl, 5 of the 19 winners in its history have run as the popular pick, with three of them - Lucky Bubbles, Aerovelocity and Sterling City - in recent years. But the topweights in the race have been missing, until the last three runnings.


Prior to Able Friend's storming win in 2015 with 133 pounds (below), you have to go back to another great miler, Electronic Unicorn in 2001, for the last to win the 1200m sprint with 133 pounds and most carried 122 pounds or less.


Interestingly, given how disadvantaged they should have been going into the set weights of the HK Sprint later, Premier Bowl winners with light handicaps have alwost always run very well in December, going back to Absolute Champion, who had won the handicap with 133 pounds than blitzed the HK Sprint field at level terms. The likes of Green Birdie, Cerise Cherry and Rich Unicorn all finished close up in the big dance when weight students would have said they faced an uphill battle.


The other thing that is apparent from the HK Mile group is that often the G1 winner was there in the G2 lead-up but wasn't the winner, suggesting that some approached the Sha Tin Trophy with the peak effort still ahead, while others bypassed it altogether.


In the HK Sprint results we see more DNR (Did Not Run) references for the Premier Bowl (formerly known by other names including Panasonic Cup), even for some local horses who found an alternative path the 1200m on international day. These results focus on the last 10 runnings, although it's fair to say the DNR list was not as big before that.


So it's a sobering proposition going into Sunday - when you can rest assured that the knee jerk reactions will make the winners favourites to win again on December 9 - that, yes, we know more than we did on Friday but winning doubles are rare. The HK Mile and HK Sprint heroes might not exactly have been hidden, but history tells us they might be slightly obscured.


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