Christmas might come but once a year, and for punting fanatics, that day is the second Sunday in December: International Day at Sha Tin.
For as long as there’s been racing in Hong Kong, there’s been Aussies over there making a quid out of it. The likes of Darren Beadman, Brett Prebble and Zac Purton reached pop idol status at the height of their respective fames, whilst the names J.J. Size are John Moore are considered racing royalty around the tiny archipelago that is the southern hemisphere’s Racing HQ.
All eyes will be fixed to Sunday’s meeting as Classique Legend, now officially trained by Hong Kong interests lines up in the Chairman’s Sprint. Whether we can still claim him by default is of some debate but there’s no doubt in the past Aussies have had a rich history of plundering international races however some may be shocked to learn how long it has been between drinks. And they might be equally as surprised when they realise just how long we’ve been at it.
March 20, 1932. Long before the riches of Hong Kong were on offer, well before oil sheiks ruled the racing world and before a Queanbeyan cab driver donned top hat and tails and gave a wink to the Queen, the ‘Red Terror’, as he was known through the depression era, set sail for California under instructions from his American owner David Davis (no relation), in a shipping crate alongside his trusty companion Tommy Woodcock. In a time when the U.S were on much better terms with their southern neighbours, Tijuana, Mexico was considered a racing hub and the Agua Caliente Handicap offered the richest prizemoney on the North American circuit with a staggering $332,000 in the races prize pool. Phar Lap was then floated the 800 miles by road across the border, picking up a heel injury in the process, forcing him to race in bar plates for his first start on the dirt. An automatic red pen job for astute form students.
After settling mid-field, rider Billy Elliot took the rangy chestnut to the front down the back straight skipping three lengths clear. He was briefly challenged by runner-up Reveille Boy turning for home but drew away over the concluding stages to claim what ultimately would be his last ever race in record time in front of 50,000 screaming continental North Americans, officially putting Aussie racing on the map.
Whilst it was the unheralded former Kilmore Cup winner State Taj who would be the first Australian trained victor in the newly formed Asian racing capital, it was the Grahame Begg-trained Monopolize who would capture Australia’s attention and begin the nation’s love affair with HK racing when he took out back to back Hong Kong Bowl’s in 1995 and 1996, then a Group 2 run over 1400m.
Piloted in 1995 by former Muswellbrook Golden Gloves champion and all-round nice guy Wayne ‘Hairy’ Harris, future HK regular Darren Beadman would take over the reins in ’96 to go back to back for the son of Rubiton.
Beadman would again win the race the following year aboard the Bart Cummings-trained Catalan Opening. Whilst many Aussie riders, trainers and ex-pat gallopers have gone on to forge successful careers in Hong Kong, the Danny Bougoure trained Falvelon (HK Sprint 2000 and 2001) remains the only successful feature winner on what is renowned as the world stage, International Day at Sha Tin, since Catalan Opening in 1997.
After Falvelon completed the Hong Kong Sprint double in 2000 and 2001, Australia was looking for a new platform of which to show off its thoroughbred exploits. With heavy interest in his Chestnut stallion from European Stud giants Coolmore in the offer, Broadmeadow horseman Paul Perry broke new ground venturing to Royal Ascot to have a throw at the stumps during the 2003 June racing carnival.
In the space of just five days, the son of Danehill Dancer won the two Group 1 sprint features, the first horse to do so, breaking Royal Ascot’s six furlong record on the Saturday in The Golden Jubilee after taking out the King’s Stand on the Tuesday over a 1000m. Three weeks later he would head to Newmarket where he tasted the only defeat of his European sojourn, a 1.5L second in the July Cup before being whisked off to stud duties. Some seven years later his name would re-appear in the Royal Ascot form guide as the Sire of 2010 Golden Jubilee winner and former Caulfield Guineas winner, Starspangledbanner.
Since 2003, a further four locally trained gallopers have taken one of the feature sprints out under the watchful eye of Her Majesty, the likes of which include Black Caviar (Jubilee 2012) and Takeover Target (King’s Stand 2006).
Better Loosen Up
45 career starts, 17 wins, 12 placings, 8 Group 1’s and 4 different trainers. Better Loosen Up was a champion. And our one and only Japan Cup winner.
Coming from close to 30 lengths off them at the 1200m in the 1990 Cox Plate, the five-year-old Gelding breezed past the likes of Sydeston, Canny Lad and Stylish Century in the final stages to claim victory in course record time. The field that day also included 1989 Japan Cup winner, the Kiwi bred Horlicks who finished 4L back in what would be her final start.
Now at the peak of his powers, after four straight victories in the Feehan, Turnbull, Cox Plate and Mackinnon, Better Loosen Up then headed to Tokyo where he would emulate Horlicks feats coming with a withering run from the 400m to grab victory in the shadows of the post. Another first for Australian racing.
The story of Takeover Target and Joe Janiak is now legendary. The only thing more remarkable is his statistics.
Locally he won races on 12 different tracks, Queanbeyan, Wagga, Gosford, Grafton, Kensington, Rosehill, Randwick, Doomben, Eagle Farm, Flemington, Morphettville and Ascot.
Internationally he embarked on 7 different campaigns across Singapore, Japan, and England with a Group 1 win in each of those countries.
Whilst he may not have been our first, he certainly was our best export, the people’s champ, the legendary Takeover Target.