Hawk’s Top Five: Hong Kong’s Greatest Globetrotters

Idol Horse Globetrotter Andrew Hawkins ranks his top five Hong Kong-trained travellers.

Hawk’s Top Five: Hong Kong’s Greatest Globetrotters

Idol Horse Globetrotter Andrew Hawkins ranks his top five Hong Kong-trained travellers.

IN THE THREE DECADES since River Verdon first travelled away from Sha Tin to represent Hong Kong on the world stage, dozens have followed in his footsteps.

Excluding trips to nearby Macau, 24 Hong Kong-trained horses have won abroad across eight different countries on surfaces ranging from Santa Anita’s dirt track to the deep Seoul sand. 

Which of these have been the best international representatives for Hong Kong? But first, what constitutes the best?

This list takes into account a horse’s profile away from Hong Kong (only while prepared by a Hong Kong trainer, so discounting starts made before, or after, they were trained at Sha Tin). Extra credit is given to consistency and longevity, while we also weighed-up the all-around impact of a horse’s performance: factors like legacy, influence and even the popularity of the horse with the Hong Kong racing fans were all taken into account.

5. Aerovelocity
Trainer: Paul O’Sullivan

Better remembered as a two-time Hong Kong Sprint winner, it was the season in which Aerovelocity won his first in 2014-15 that stamped him as a top traveller. At his last two appearances of the season, Paul O’Sullivan’s aggressive sprinter won the 2015 Takamatsunomiya Kinen at Chukyo before landing the final KrisFlyer International Sprint at Kranji. No Hong Kong horse has built up a sprint season like it.

Aerovelocity wins the G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen
AEROVELOCITY / G1 Takamatsuonimya Kinen // Chukyo /// 2015 //// Photo by JRA

A year later, the Chairman’s Sprint Prize moved from February to its current position in late April or early May, offering a tantalising ‘what if’ for Aerovelocity fans. If Aerovelocity had been given the chance to complete the Takamatsunomiya Kinen – Chairman’s Sprint Prize – KrisFlyer International Sprint treble within six weeks it would have been a feat for the ages.

4. Vengeance Of Rain
Trainer: David Ferraris

Not all Group 1 races are created equal. When looking at the races won by Hong Kong horses, the Dubai Sheema Classic stands out as the best among them. The 2007 Sheema Classic may not have been the best running of the staying feature but it did feature the previous year’s Derby winner (Sir Percy), a Breeders’ Cup Turf winner (Red Rocks), a Melbourne Cup and Arima Kinen runner-up (Pop Rock) and well-performed Europeans like Youmzain, Quijano and Laverock. They were all left in the wake of the remarkable Vengeance Of Rain, who shook off a fairly lacklustre season to that point.

It was the only time he left Hong Kong, at least while he was in training at Sha Tin, but the significance of that victory earns him a high spot on this list.

3. Cape Of Good Hope
Trainer: David Oughton

From June 2004 to February 2006, Cape Of Good Hope became Hong Kong’s most prolific globetrotter of all time with 12 starts away from Sha Tin across the UK, Japan and Australia. It was as much down to circumstance as anything else – Silent Witness was running rampant in Hong Kong while the introduction of the Global Sprint Challenge in 2005 proved another carrot for trainer David Oughton and owner Guy Carstairs.

While the speedster “only” won two Group 1 races from his 12 overseas starts, taking the 2005 Golden Jubilee Stakes at a unique Royal Ascot meeting run at York and the 2005 Australia Stakes at Moonee Valley, he was placed in a further seven races across all three countries, firmly stamping himself as one of the best sprinters in the world.

2. Rich Tapestry
Trainer: Michael Chang

When thinking of the top sprinters to come out of Hong Kong, Rich Tapestry would struggle to crack the top 10 and may even slip outside the top 20. However, as an international traveller, the Michael Chang-trained gelding is almost unmatched. His status as the only Hong Kong horse to win an American Grade 1 on dirt – the 2014 Santa Anita Sprint Championship – would earn him a spot on this list as is.

RICH TAPESTRY / G1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship // Santa Anita /// 2014

However, his ability to perform on multiple continents across seasons and on different surfaces (dirt, Tapeta, turf) – including two Group 3 victories at Meydan as well as a narrow Golden Shaheen second – ensures he is closest to top billing. Add in a hard-charging sixth on turf in the 2015 Sprinters Stakes, beaten only a length and a half, and he almost earned his spot at the head of this list.

1. Romantic Warrior
Trainer: Danny Shum

It would have been difficult to have Romantic Warrior cracking the top five solely on his Cox Plate win given the strength of those already in the list. Add in his June 2024 Yasuda Kinen victory, though, and he becomes the logical and rightful headline act among this group. To win Australia’s top weight-for-age 2000m race and then add Japan’s top all-age mile race is a seriously impressive achievement.

Romantic Warrior wins the G1 Yasuda Kinen
ROMANTIC WARRIOR / G1 Yasuda Kinen // Tokyo /// 2024 //// Photo by JRA

It’s arguable that he didn’t even perform at his very best to win those races either, and he still ended the term with five Group 1 wins in three countries, with a maiden Horse of the Year title awaiting him next month. 

Honourable Mentions

A pair of Yasuda Kinen winners, Fairy King Prawn and Bullish Luck, find themselves on the outside looking in.

Fairy King Prawn would have made the five if Romantic Warrior hadn’t won the Yasuda Kinen. That race  marked a full circle not just for Danny Shum, assistant to Ivan Allan in 2000 when Fairy King Prawn became Hong Kong’s first winner abroad, but for Hong Kong racing as a whole. Had Fairy King Prawn  beaten Jim And Tonic in the 2001 Dubai Duty Free rather than finished a neck second, he would have been ahead of Aerovelocity in this list. 

In addition to Bullish Luck’s 2006 Yasuda Kinen victory, which came on the second of three attempts at Tokyo, he produced Hong Kong’s best performance in the Dubai World Cup when third to Invasor in 2007. That does come with caveats, though – third of seven beaten 10 lengths – and he was unplaced in the Dubai Duty Free on two other visits to Meydan. Holistically, his overseas forays see him fall just short.

Bullish Luck wins the G1 Yasuda Kinen
BULLISH LUCK / G1 Yasuda Kinen // Tokyo /// 1999 /// Photo by JRA

The closest to a left field inclusion was champion stayer Indigenous. His second to Special Week in the 1999 Japan Cup – with the likes of High-Rise, Montjeu, Stay Gold and Tiger Hill in behind – ranks as one of the best performances by a Hong Kong horse on the world stage and he was also third in the 2002 Singapore Airlines International Cup. His other forays abroad included beaten efforts in memorable races such as Daylami’s 1999 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Dubai Millennium’s 2000 Dubai World Cup and the shortened Japan Cup in 2002 won by Falbrav.

The thought of a Hong Kong horse now contesting the King George or the Japan Cup seems fanciful, let alone finishing in the placings. So while he didn’t win away from Hong Kong, his body of work was almost good enough to secure inclusion. It was only the lack of a centrepiece victory that ruled him out.

As a trailblazer, few can match Little Bridge and he certainly does have that standout victory from the 2012 King’s Stand Stakes. It takes something special for a two-time traveller to make the cut and, despite his Royal Ascot success, that lack of longevity meant he did not qualify.

Lucky Nine went close to matching Cape Of Good Hope’s 12 starts abroad with 11 foreign outings. It came across a greater number of countries too with four (Japan, UAE, Singapore and Australia) to Cape Of Good Hope’s three, while both had two international wins. In the end, a combined long head made the difference. Had Lucky Nine reeled in A Shin Virgo in the 2011 Centaur Stakes (defeated by a head) or Buffering in the 2013 Manikato Stakes (beaten a nose), he may have pushed for number one. Instead, he sits on the sidelines. 

Lucky Nine wins G1 KrisFlyer
LUCKY NINE / G1 KrisFlyer Sprint // Kranji /// 2013 //// Photo by Neville Hopwood

Others in the mix include Dan Excel (won 2016 and 2017 SAI Cup in Singapore) Silent Witness (third behind Bullish Luck in 2005 Yasuda Kinen, won 2005 Sprinters’ Stakes and fourth in 2006 Sprinters Stakes) and Sacred Kingdom (2009 KrisFlyer Sprint, Singapore), but each is shy of the high benchmark set by this jet-setting top five.

Andrew Hawkins is the Idol Horse Globetrotter. Andrew’s deep passion for international racing has taken him to all corners of the world, including Hong Kong, where he was based for five years. He has worked with media outlets including South China Morning Post, Racing Post, ANZ Bloodstock News, Sky Racing Australia and World Horse Racing, as well as for organisations including the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Victoria Racing Club.

View all articles by Andrew Hawkins.

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