O’Sullivans make history
It’s more than 25 years since Horlicks created racing history by winning the Japan Cup, but that hasn’t lessened the parallels that have been drawn following the weekend win of Aerovelocity in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen in Japan.
The obvious common denominator is the name O’Sullivan, Horlicks having been a member of the famous Wexford Stables operation established by Dave O’Sullivan and Aerovelocity trained by Dave’s son and former training partner Paul.
When Horlicks ran a world record time for 2400 metres to win the Japan Cup in 1989, the stake of $5 million made it the richest horse race in the world. Last Sunday’s race over half that distance wasn’t of the same magnitude in monetary terms, but with a stake of $2.5m and as a Group One race in the Global Sprint Challenge series it still rates highly in international terms.
The celebrations that followed transcended three countries – in Japan where Paul O’Sullivan and Hong Kong- based Australian jockey Zac Purton were joined by owner Daniel Yeung and his 30- strong entourage, in Hong Kong where Aerovelocity was lauded as the first horse to travel to Japan and win the prestigious race, and in New Zealand where Dave and Lance O’Sullivan were joined by breeders Windsor Park Stud, where the horse was bred, and Waikato Stud, the home of his sire Pins. Lance and Paul had joined forces back in 2010 to buy Aerovelocity at the Karaka yearling sales, going beyond budget to secure the impressive bay for $120,000 and then setting a plan to prepare him for a Hong Kong career. The breakthrough wasn’t to come for another two years, when the horse by now known as Naisoso Warrior won on debut on Anzac Day, 2012.
Aerovelocity capped his career under Paul O’Sullivan with victory in the Hong Kong International Sprint at Sha Tin last December. That’s when the plan was made to set him for last Sunday’s big Japanese sprint and he sealed a start with a close second in his final lead-up. When Horlicks departed on her Japan Cup mission in late 1989 she was stepping into largely uncharted territory, and it was a crowning achievement for the Wexford Stables team when she claimed the big race. The trip from Hong Kong to Japan earlier this month was a whole lot easier for Aerovelocity but still with its challenges, involving time in quarantine on arrival in Tokyo and then a nine-hour float trip to Chukyo racecourse, near the city of Nagoya.
‘‘Luckily he’s one of those horses that is happy with his own company,’’ said Paul, ‘‘but he had to cope with a lot of travel in a strange environment and a big drop in temperature. He’s tough though, not just in his racing the way he fights but also in his general behaviour.’’
An inside barrier draw was welcomed when the field for the Takamatsunomiya Kinen was finalised, but come raceday when rain began to fall the tables were turned in favour of horses draw wide and not having to race on the inside section of the track. In his usual style Aerovelocity made a good start and raced on the speed, but with the track near the rail badly chopped up, other runners began to improve around him nearing the home turn.
‘‘Zac said he was gone on the turn, he was going nowhere,’’ said Paul.
‘‘Then he got him out wider to the top of the rise where the track was firmer and he picked himself up. Every stride got better and he wore them down. It was a great result.
‘‘At the press conference afterwards I felt pretty proud as the only Kiwi there to hear them say that DJ and I are the only father and son trainers to win Group One races in Japan,’’ O’Sullivan added.
Paul will wait for the dust to settle before confirming his next move.
‘‘There’s a $1m bonus for the Global Sprint Challenge winner, so we would probably like to get him to Singapore for the KrisFlyer Sprint.
‘‘As it stands he’s already done a huge job. With this win on top of the Hong Kong Sprint I imagine he’s the world’s highest rated sprinter and there’s any number of options for him coming up.
‘‘Right now we’ll just enjoy this one.’’
Flanked by Japan Racing Association chairman Masayuki Goto and Hong Kong Jockey Club director of racing Bill Nader, Paul O’Sullivan shows off the trophy won by his star sprinter Aerovelocity.