Lucky Sweynesse embodies Hong Kong’s international character

Jim McGrath

08/12/2023 18:30

Lucky Sweynesse is a three-time G1 winner.
Lucky Sweynesse is a three-time G1 winner.

 An outstanding feature of the HKIR is the truly international element that it brings to the table every year.  Behind every horse there is a story — some simple, some not so simple — and in the case of Hong Kong’s world class sprinter Lucky Sweynesse, there is a racing tale that involves three capitals and spans two decades.

Lucky Sweynesse is a five-year-old Southern Hemisphere-bred son of Sweynesse out of the Red Clubs mare Madonna Mia, bought for NZ$90,000 at Karaka, the famous sales complex located just outside Auckland.

The agent who bought him was Joe Barnes, a Kiwi horseman well known in the Far East for his all-round skills, honed training and driving trotters (harness racing) in Macau before he switched codes and took out a licence with the Macau Jockey Club to train thoroughbreds on Taipa island.

Barnes was instructed to buy a suitable horse at the sales by Hong Kong owner Cheng Ming-Leung and his family. Joe takes up the story, which is an encouraging one for anybody dreaming of one day owning a champion.

 “Mr Cheng rang up from Hong Kong and said ‘Joe, I’ve got a permit (from the HKJC). Find me a horse. Your budget is NZ$100,000.’

 “So I set off for Karaka and started looking.  It didn’t take long to find what we wanted. This Sweynesse colt stood out.  He was there at Karaka for a week, and I kept going back to see him every day, I just fell in love with the horse.

 “He stood well, he had an impressive top line…a beautiful horse. I told the owners ‘The is THE one.’

Zac Purton steers Lucky Sweynesse to victory in the G2 BOCHK Private Banking Jockey Club Sprint.
Zac Purton steers Lucky Sweynesse to victory in the G2 BOCHK Private Banking Jockey Club Sprint.

 “When I go to the sales, I go on looks and type first. Then I look at the page (pedigree printed in the catalogue). Obviously, he was the right type, and the page on the dam’s side was quite good, too.

 “I found myself just going back every day to the box to see this colt.  The more I looked at him, the more I liked him. Clifford Brierley, an old-time jockey in New Zealand, confirmed it…he said ‘This is a lovely horse, Joe.’

 “We bought him for 90k and I arranged for him to come to my farm in Cambridge — I’ve got a small property of seven acres — and eventually, he was put into work with a local trainer I   know well, Shelley Hale, and she came back with positive reports.  She loved the horse.

 “Then came the time to trial him. He was a bit sleepy in his first trial, just inexperienced, but he won his second barrier trial by seven lengths at Ellerslie…and he won it on his ear!  I thought ‘we’ve got something here….’”

And, how right he was.  Joe Barnes spent 23 years in Macau before returning to New Zealand to first train, then to breed horses and act as a bloodstock agent, buying for clients in Hong Kong and the region.

 “I trained for Mr Cheng 20 years ago in Macau. When I left, I kept the connection and that’s how I came to get the order for Lucky Sweynesse,” he explains.

 It was indeed fortuitous for Barnes that he did.  Lucky Sweynesse looked a budding star with everything he continued to produce in his first season.  Having arrived in Hong Kong extensively trained and trialled but unraced, the gelding continued to improve each time he stepped out.

Last season, he was busy and very successful. After finishing an unlucky sixth in the G1 Hong Kong Sprint — he just couldn’t get a clear crack at them — he put together a sequence of six wins to finish his season one of the highest ranking horses in the world.

Now he asked to avenge his defeat as he comes up against Wellington, who defends his title.  The last word goes to Joe Barnes, the agent who found Lucky Sweynesse:  “I think he can win.  He’s been carrying 135lbs regularly, and now he drops to 126lbs.  He’s got an unbelievable record. 14 wins from 20 starts….and only one start when he missed picking up a cheque for his owner…and that was in this race last year.  This time I think he will win.”

Jim McGrath

Jim McGrath is a broadcaster and journalist from Australia. He was the English-language voice of Hong Kong racing for 13 years in the 1970s and 1980s, and was also writing articles for the South China Morning Post at that time.

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