Crisford’s aiming to bridge the gap

Howard Wright

04/12/2023 13:11

West Wind Blows stretches out at Sha Tin.
West Wind Blows stretches out at Sha Tin.

Not since 2010 has the UAE national anthem rung out over Sha Tin racecourse following one of the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races (HKIR). Aiming to plug that long gap this year in the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) will be West Wind Blows, who has a historical connection on his side.

Since the international races assumed their present form in 1999, the UAE is credited with four wins, by Fantastic Light and Ramonti in the Cup, in 2000 and 2007 respectively, by Firebreak in the 2004 Mile, and by Mastery in the 2010 Vase.

All four were owned by Godolphin, trained by Saeed bin Suroor – making him the leading overseas trainer on the HKIR all-time list - and ridden by Frankie Dettori. And their visits to Hong Kong were all managed by Simon Crisford, who jointly trains West Wind Blows with his son Ed.

The difference from those previous successes is that West Wind Blows races under the Rabbah Bloodstock banner and will carry the distinctive black and yellow silks of UAE businessman Abdulla Al Mansoori. But the principal of the challenge remains the same and as Godolphin front-man in Great Britain and Dubai for so many years, Crisford knows exactly what it takes to travel horses long distances.

He says the four-year-old fits the bill perfectly, hence six of his last ten races have been overseas from his usual UK base in Newmarket.

“We identified him quite early on as a horse who could be a nice international type,” Crisford explains, “and he’s proved a real professional at travelling. As he gets older, I’m sure he will get even better.”

By Teofilo out of the French Oaks winner West Wind, West Wind Blows was earmarked as being out of the ordinary almost from the start, winning his two races before being thrown into Classic company and running ninth in the Derby. He continued on an upward curve, but his biggest improvement has come after a gelding operation in May this year, since when he has been out of the first three only once in seven runs, the last three of which have been in Australia.

His lowest finish was ninth place in the Champions Stakes at Flemington on his most recent outing, after he had run a stormer previously when beaten a head by former stablemate Without A Fight in the Caulfield Cup. But Crisford rates that performance as “a blip”, where the finishing position did not tell the whole story of his race.

He explains: “He had a slight tendency in his three races in Australia to be slowly out of the gates, and that worked against him on that occasion. We hadn’t planned for it to happen, but he’s none the worse for it.”

That West Wind Blows was among the first overseas arrival for the Hong Kong International Races was deliberate, Crisford says. “Hong Kong was always on our radar and he had been based at the Werribee training centre for quite some time, so we decided we should get to Hong Kong early,” he adds.

Speaking from Dubai, where he is supervising a team taking part in the new-look, season-long Carnival, Crisford says: “Ed, who’s there with him, tells me he’s in good form. Just as important, we’ve done some gate-schooling with him and Ed says he’s better at it, so fingers crossed.”

Crisford junior will be able to draw on expert advice with local knowledge in the final stages of preparation, as former jockey Philip Robinson is racing manager to West Wind Blows’ owner. Robinson rode in Hong Kong for six years from 1987, and in becoming champion jockey in 1988-89 and 1989-90, he is the only British rider to achieve the feat.

Assessing West Wind Blows’ chance, Crisford senior says: “A mile and a half is a good trip for him, but he’s going to have to raise his game again. The Vase looks a deep race this year, and he’s got to find a few pounds against horses that are rated higher than him, but we think he is a horse who will continue to improve mentally and physically.”

Having been ridden by Jamie Spencer in seven of his last eight races, including at Flemington, West Wind Blows will have a new partner in James McDonald, who is on a short-term contract in Hong Kong.

“James is a world-class jockey, a perfect fit for this horse,” Crisford says. “It will be an honour to represent the UAE with West Wind Blows. Let’s hope we pick up a piece of the pie.”

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