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  • Writer's pictureAlan Aitken

Don't be a (knee) jerk on Aethero defeat

It is never hard to be wise after the event in racing but, in terms of Hong Kong's racing scene, the defeat of boom youngster Aethero on Tuesday was eminently predictable.

A win would have been no surprise but defeat was predictable enough to overlook the three-year-old at prohibitive odds-on, especially when bettors have an appreciation of the landscape in Hong Kong.

To some fans, especially those overseas, defeat for the young sprinter meant that he was overboomed and simply not as good as he had been touted, but that is a knee-jerk reaction that won't hold up over time.

If Aethero was back in the country of his birth, Australia, he would remain unbeaten for some time, as he would be lining up in races that carry tags like Group 3 or Group 2 or Group 1 but they are restricted to three-year-old horses. So, they are actually short, often well short, of the performance levels of Group races that are open to all ages.

That allows some potential stars to be coddled and protected, racing only their own age while they assemble flattering records but that system allows them to mature at their own pace.

That cannot happen in Hong Kong, there is nowhere to hide and they are asked to grow up fast.

In recent years, for the first time in a long time, there have in fact been one or two minor races a season reserved for three-year-old horses only, but that is an exception.

Three-year-olds are tossed straight in against horses of all ages and experience, and under handicap conditions, where they must often concede weight to older, tougher horses.

In Aethero's case, he was also subject to one of the quirks of the system which hits winning young horses hard as they change seasons. As a two-year-old in July, when he won against older horses for the first time in Class 3, officially rated on a 75 handicap mark. However, under the local system, a Southern Hemisphere-bred two-year-old is given a 5-pound allowance in that situation, so he actually ran off a 70 rating in reality. With the change of season, that 5-pound allowance disappeared, he was penalised 14 points from the official rating and, when he ran on Tuesday off a rating of 89, it meant he was actually up a whopping 19 points in the handicaps.

So that was tough but Class 2 for the first time is also a place where many promising three-year-olds meet their Waterloo anyway.

Racing older horses in Class 4 or Class 3 is not a pushover. Even in Class 3, the toughness of the system has brought defeat to many a future star and three-year-olds beaten there on their way to the top include, but are not limited to, last season's champion sprinter, Beat The Clock (right), Mr Stunning, Pakistan Star, Lucky Owners, Precision, Sight Winner, Liberator, Luger, Ivictory and Contentment.

If you want to go back a little further, you can find the day that Fairy King Prawn was tumbled at odds-on in Class 3 before he went on to become an all-time great of Hong Kong racing and a Yasuda Kinen winner in Japan (below).

And those Class 3 races can populated by old horses on the way down or just plain average horses.

In Class 2, everything has good ability. They might be in form or out of form but they have proven themselves just by virtue of being in that grade.

As they get closer to turning four, good three-year-olds will have the better of their older opponents, but early in their three-year-old season, there are no free kicks.

In the past seven years, three-year-old winners in Class 2 in Hong Kong have numbered 44 from 323 attempts, many from both hemispheres within a month or two of turning four, but only three were Southern Hemisphere-breds prior to Christmas - Amber Sky, Hot King Prawn and Styling City, who all won at the minimum distance of 1000m.

For Amber Sky - later a Group One winner in Hong Kong and an Alquoz Sprint winner in Dubau - it was third time lucky, as the future sprint star was also beaten twice before Christmas in Class 2 as a three-year-old at odds of 1.2 and 1.4.

So the bottom line is don't be too disappointed about Aethero - not a lot went right in the race, he was thrust into a situation where his inexperience came to the surfce and he still ran a place.

In defeat on Tuesday, Aethero lost no caste whatsoever, given the demands of the race and the environment in general.

He remains a star in the making but it won't happen overnight and the only wake up call was for the unreasonable expectation that he would brush aside all opposition on the way to winning the 2019 Hong Kong Sprint.

Even now, he hasn't come up against serious, top class talent - his conquerors on Tuesday won't be winning anything special - so just give him the time because he has plenty to come.

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