Pure Sensation's chances in Hong Kong Sprint: a look at trends and Soumillon's take
To find an American-based winner of a Hong Kong International Race, you've got to go back in the archives -- far enough back as to pre-date the HKIR's current incarnation. Glen Kate captured the about seven-furlong International Bowl, the precursor to the Hong Kong Mile (G1), in 1993, and Val's Prince took the 1997 International Cup, when it was about nine furlongs, before its revamping into the about 1 1/4-mile Hong Kong Cup (G1).
Last year, the respective first and third from the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1), Mongolian Saturday and Green Mask, couldn't land a blow against the home team in the Hong Kong Sprint. Peniaphobia led home an all-Hong Kong superfecta, making it 12 wins for the locals from 17 runnings.
To be fair, Mongolian Saturday was stretched a little beyond his limit trying to go six furlongs, and he lost ground attempting to turn right-handed as opposed to his customary left. In the circumstances, fifth was pretty decent. Green Mask may have done better than eighth, if not for an ill-timed hoof bruise. Pure Sensation, the third-placer in the 2016 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, doesn't bring stamina or fitness liabilities.
But still, other than Australia's Falvelon (2000-01) in the early years, South Africa's J J the Jet Plane (2010), and the other-worldly Lord Kanaloa from Japan (2012-13), the Hong Kong sprinters have refused to surrender on their home turf. That's the kind of formidable defense that Pure Sensation will find as he storms the beachhead.
Or is it? Belgian ace Christophe Soumillon, who's picking up the mount aboard Pure Sensation at Sha Tin, wasn't overly impressed by Hong Kong's current contingent. Writing for the Hong Kong Jockey Club's microsite for the HKIR, Soumillon expressed his view that this year's edition may be more open to international infiltration:
[The Hong Kong Sprint] is, in my opinion, one of the toughest races to win for an overseas horse. The Hong Kong sprinters so often have an advantage that it normally takes a real superstar to come from abroad to win. I’ve known trainer Christophe Clement and his brother Nicolas for a long time and it will be great to ride for Christophe again with Pure Sensation. The last time I rode an American horse in East Asia for Christophe was actually a big race in Singapore when a filly named Parranda won. So, I know it’s possible for horses to ship from his yard in the U.S. to this part of the world.
The most difficult thing for Pure Sensation will be to turn right – he’s never had to do it in a race before. I was told he trained right-handed in his last piece of work before getting on the plane and that should help, but it is still a question. I only had one ride on the preview day at Sha Tin a few weeks ago and really got the chance to look at the competition with a critical eye. To me, there are no real local superstar sprinters right now, so the race could be for the taking. A good inside draw would be best because this horse likes to show speed and is very consistent. Hopefully, if we do get a low number, it can save us a few lengths on the turn.
Soumillon's critique of the local brigade is very much worth noting, although my initial inclination is to give the Hong Kong speedsters the edge until convinced otherwise, and lean toward Lucky Bubbles. I remain reticent about Pure Sensation's win chances, and if tempted to look abroad, likelier to be drawn to Japan's Big Arthur or possibly Australia's Takedown. More focused thoughts to come later in the week, so opinions are in flux.
My colleague soon-to-be on the spot, Vance Hanson, will probably have more to say on Pure Sensation's behalf.
Photo courtesy Hong Kong Jockey Club