Imports keep international spirit alive on FWD Champions Day
The export market to Hong Kong is critical to the health of various racing eco(nomic) systems around the world – from England and Ireland to Australia and New Zealand in particular.
The Australian story of such transactions did not begin with the importation of such hallowed Hong Kong racing names as Fairy King Prawn, Silent Witness and Sacred Kingdom – each twice a Chairman’s Sprint Prize winner – in the 1990s and 2000s.
However, the performances of those horses certainly cemented the trade between Australia and Hong Kong and given the Australian breeding industry’s focus on speed you could argue the story began with the arrival of Fairy King Prawn who was bought for AU$180,000 by representatives of the Hong Kong businessman Philip Lau and exported as a yearling.
That focus on breeding sprinters arguably began with the introduction of the Golden Slipper Stakes, at 1200 metres for two-year-olds, in 1957 and when Stanley Wootton imported the speed stallion Star Kingdom – who would sire the first five Slipper winners – to Australia and it was Wootton’s daughter Catherine Remond who bred Fairy King Prawn.
The exploits of those three great Australian bred sprinters generated momentum which has been maintained until now. The past six winners of the Chairman’s Sprint Prize, since the race was opened to international competition, have been Australian bred. In all the various guises of the race since 1985, there have been 19 individual winners born and raised in Australia.
Underlining the significance of the export market is the fact that only one of the past six G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) winners has been trained outside Hong Kong which was, of course, the breathtaking Chautauqua who was prepared by John, Michael and Wayne Hawkes.
Australian bred horses have also won four of the past eight editions of the G1 FWD Champions Mile (1600m) with the New Zealand bred Beauty Generation and South Africa’s Variety Club making it seven, in that time, from the Southern Hemisphere but again the majority – six – have been Hong Kong trained.
This year, there are no fewer than 13 Australian-bred horses among the intended runners in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize and the FWD Champions Mile and they include the defending champions, respectively, in Wellington and Golden Sixty.
Thus, while COVID-19 has ruled out direct international participation in 2022 there is no shortage of international flavour in the pedigrees of Hong Kong’s best and the racing world will still be keenly watching while lamenting that they cannot compete or simply attend.
Among those is champion South African trainer Mike de Kock, who won the FWD Champions Mile with Variety Club and twice the G1 FWD QEII Cup (2000m) with Iridescence and Archipenko, and reminisced about his Hong Kong success during his recent trip to Australia for the Inglis Easter Sales and to visit his new-born grandson Liam.
“Variety Club was one hell of a good horse. Remember it was a great field that year (2014) with Able Friend, Dan Excel, Glorious Days and Gold-Fun and he thrashed them by four lengths. He won 17 of his 23 starts, that horse…he was something special. It’s a shame nobody can be there this year but hopefully that will change,” he said.
Something special would also aptly describe Golden Sixty. Trainer Francis Lui must have had an inkling of just that when he bought the horse for NZ$300,000 at the New Zealand Ready To Run Sales in 2017 after he’d earlier been sold as yearling for AU$120,000 at the Gold Coast Magic Millions Yearling sale.
More than 400 horses were catalogued at that Ready To Run sale and Lui purchased only two. Two picks, one champion is a remarkable result.
The following year, Wellington was also offered at the Gold Coast Magic Millions Yearling sale and sold to Lauriston Thoroughbred Farm for AU$70,000 before being on-sold to Hong Kong.
And just last year we had a reminder of the great export stories of the past when Nervous Witness won on debut; almost 20 years after Silent Witness did likewise for the same ownership group.
Both horses, of course, were bred in Australia; sold at the Inglis Classic Yearling Sale; and won trials on Victorian country tracks by five lengths before being shipped to Hong Kong in deals brokered by Price Bloodstock.
Sacred Kingdom, under the name Jumbo Star, similarly won a trial in Australia before his export.
It was a golden period of Hong Kong racing when you consider that Fairy King Prawn, Silent Witness and Sacred Kingdom each twice won the Chairman’s Sprint Prize in the space of 12 years from 1999.
And so we end this story as it began – with Fairy King Prawn. He was so good and so popular that Lawrence Wadey – then the South China Morning Post’s Chief Racing Writer – was moved to write:
“The Prawn (Fairy King Prawn) is racing’s Tiger Woods, soccer’s Rivaldo, Zinedine and David Beckham all rolled into one; he is this sport’s Michael Schumacher and Lennox Lewis. In the contest of Hong Kong, he’s a sporting colossus. He’s indisputably the best seen since the legendary River Verdon.”
Steve Moran is an award winning Melbourne racing journalist who has covered the 'sport of kings' on television, radio and in print for more than 30 years.
His passion is international racing and especially the major days in Hong Kong which he has attended since 1999. He names Silent Witness, Good Ba Ba and the dual Cox Plate winner Northerly among his favourite horses and considers the Hong Kong wins of Sunline, Lord Kanaloa, Maurice, A Shin Hikari and Chautauqua among the most spectacular he's seen.