Don't be in a Rush when the new imports step out
It's that time again, when the Private Purchase (PP) horses start to step out and confuse the life out of their old fans back home.
By way of explanation, a PP is any horse that arrives at Sha Tin with prior race form in any other country, usually kicking off their Hong Kong career in Class 3 or Class 2. Many of them are bought specifically with the four-year-old races, ultimately the Derby, in mind, but not all of them are headed that way.
John Size-trained Beauty Rush at Happy Valley on Wednesday night will not be the first PP of the season but he will be the first to get any serious attention, so that is my signal to pick up the hose and try to cool down expectations for their prospects, especially first time out in Hong Kong.
It isn't hard to find an old fan of a PP in places like Australia or New Zealand or France or Ireland who is touting the horse when they step out for their debut in their new home, often at long odds, and can't believe the price, believing that the Hong Kong locals are ignorant of the animal's talent.
And they'll get badly burnt doing it, as the "ignorance" belongs to anyone who thinks a first-up win in Hong Kong is easy meat. For punters, the first-up PP is poison.
In the photo above is Regency Legend winning he Chief Executive's Cup this season and, as an impressive Class 3 winner on international day last year at his first run in Hong Kong, he heads up the honour roll for debutant PPs in the 2018-19 season.
But he was one of the good stories - from 177 PPs to make their debut during the season, only 6 were successful and, as you can by their starting odds on the right-hand side of this list, narrowing it down to the ones in the market didn't really help a lot. Two of the winners, Star Performance and Winning Delight were given little chance. There were, however, 24 sent out at odds of 11.0 or less who met defeat and just three that won.
If that seems a poor return, in the larger picture it's a standard season.
The next table shows the performance of the PP debutants since 2007. That gives us a decent sample of over 2,000 of them and you can see they don't exactly overperform as a group.
Now many of them arrive with only a maiden win to recommend them but there are quite a few that turn up with multiple or even black type wins to their names, and quite often a reputation to go with them. None of that will count for much when they arrive in Hong Kong and the task of being transported across the world and stepping out in a new environment, with a new trainer, on an unfamiliar track and usually months, sometimes years, since their last run is too much for most.
An overwhelming proportion will be sent out at long odds but, even when there is confidence in the betting, it is no pushover.
As you see here, thestrike is similar for the groups that go out under 20-1 or under 10-1 but still a losing proposition for the punter.
That isn't to say these horses will be failures. Many of them take a run or two to get going in their new home and many go on to find their old form and have successful careers. Some find the whole thing too overwhelming and plummet down the classes before they can win.
And consider a specific case like Beauty Rush (ex Tin Hat with Godolphin Australia), seen winning his latest trial easily below.
His last start down under was a win, so he will have been penalised in his Australian handicap rating for that and arrives here with the handicapper asking that he produce something similar or better to win his first start in his new home.
That is really stretching the friendship and he started in Class 2, a competitive grade at any time.
But, I hear you say, the genius John Size trains Beauty Rush so that makes him a different case.
Well, that's true in a longer term sense - you'd expect that having a top trainer makes it more likely that the PP will rediscover his form.
And, as this table shows, certain top stables do get better results on debut than some other yards but it's a losing proposition.
In fact, if you've pinned your ears back ready to charge into Beauty Rush on debut, consider this.
Size has had only one debutant win in Class 2 or higher since he started in Hong Kong 18 years ago - a horse called Mirage, who was such a nightmare barrier horse he was retired immediately after and returned to race in Australia.
So, over the coming months we will see the best part of 200 PPs making their Hong Kong debut, some of them carrying big wraps from other jurisdictions and with plenty of fans already.
And the message is simple - the talent identified in a horse's previous career might show up on day one but it's unlikely and a bit of patience before you follow them with your punting money is a better plan.