HONG KONG Le­maire is a man in de­mand

Daily Racing Form National Digital Edition - - Front Page - By Mar­cus Hersh Fol­low Mar­cus Hersh on Twit­ter @DRFHersh

HONG KONG – Hong Kong su­per­star jockey Joao Mor­eira, hav­ing failed to pro­cure a longterm Ja­panese li­cense this year, re­turns to the Hong Kong cir­cuit on a reg­u­lar ba­sis next week. Mor­eira is in town for the Hong Kong In­ter­na­tional Races on Sun­day but un­sur­pris­ingly is keep­ing a low pro­file this week.

In Mor­eira’s ab­sence, Zac Pur­ton has as­sumed lead­ing role in the Hong Kong jockey colony, but Pur­ton, fol­low­ing a Tues­day photo op and presser for the dozen jock­eys (no Mor­eira) who are part of this year’s In­ter­na­tional Jockey Chal­lenge, skipped out of the event as quickly as po­litely pos­si­ble.

No wor­ries, re­ally, for it seemed every­one at Happy Val­ley Race­course on Tues­day wanted to have a word with Christophe Le­maire.

Le­maire, 39, is in Hong Kong this week for the first time in five years. His po­si­tion in the rac­ing world is unique. A suc­cess­ful and es­tab­lished rider in France, Le­maire in 2014 ap­plied for a long-term Ja­panese jockey’s li­cense, passed the two re­quired tests (Mor­eira failed the first one), and has be­come Ja­pan’s top jockey. Less than a month from the end of the year he is clos­ing in on the Ja­pan Rac­ing As­so­ci­a­tion record of 212 win­ners in a year and will be lead­ing rider for the sec­ond time. Le­maire had many good sea­sons in France but never, he said, did he win races at a pace like this.

“We used to come to Ja­pan ev­ery win­ter,” Le­maire said dur­ing an end­less string of in­ter­views Tues­day. “We were used to the cul­ture and the way of rac­ing in Ja­pan, and I can say that Ja­pan for the jock­eys is one of the best places in the world. It’s a great plea­sure to ride there. The races are safe, there’s a lot of re­spect be­tween the jock­eys. The lan­guage is hard to han­dle but we work on it – still work­ing on it.”

Le­maire can at least get by in four lan­guages – and has mounts in all four Hong Kong In­ter­na­tional Races on Sun­day. He rides Ivic­tory in the Hong Kong Sprint, Eziyra in the Hong Kong Vase, Mozu As­cot in the Hong Kong Mile, and the filly Deirdre in the Hong Kong Cup. All these horses have at least a hope, but it is Deirdre whom Le­maire calls his best chance to win.

Yet Le­maire could not go more than a few sen­tences with­out some­one ask­ing about a horse he rides who’s not even in Hong Kong – the 3-year-old filly Al­mond Eye.

Al­mond Eye be­came the fifth horse to sweep the Ja­pan fil­lies triple crown and fol­lowed that with a su­pe­rior per­for­mance beat­ing older males in the Ja­pan Cup on Nov. 25. It has not just been the races Al­mond Eye has won but the way Al­mond Eye has won her races that has cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion. She swept to the filly triple crown blast­ing home from the rear of the field, but in the Ja­pan Cup sat sec­ond just off Kiseki’s solid pace be­fore tip­ping out and pass­ing with ease.

“I felt that she was some­thing spe­cial from her de­but,” said Le­maire. “She’s got stamina, speed, ac­cel­er­a­tion – she’s easy to ride and she’s nearly a per­fect horse to ride . . . She reaches so far with her front legs and pushes so hard with her back – if you look at her you can see she has such a pow­er­ful en­gine. When she goes, she goes so hard.”

Le­maire con­firmed Al­mond Eye’s con­nec­tions have their eye on the Sheema Clas­sic on the Dubai World Cup undercard. That’s for the spring. In the au­tumn, the ob­vi­ous goal is to be­come the first Ja­panese win­ner of the elu­sive Prix de l’Arc de Tri­om­phe. Funny that the French ex­pa­tri­ate who has be­come a top Ja­panese jock could be the one to pro­duce it.

Read­ing the tea leaves in Vase

The trainer Ai­dan O’Brien and Cool­more have a horse for Sun­day’s Hong Kong Vase named Rostropovich. The jockey Ryan Moore is in Hong Kong this week and rides the Sun­day card at Sha Tin. Moore is the prin­ci­pal rider for O’Brien and Bal­ly­doyle, and one year ago gave those con­nec­tions their first Hong Kong win when High­land Reel cap­tured the Vase.

Moore is not rid­ing Rostropovich in the Vase. That’s the mount of Wayne Lor­dan, while Moore will take a seat on Mi­rage Dancer for an old pa­tron, trainer Michael Stoute.

Un­der­tak­ing the study of jock­ey­ol­ogy can lead one down a rab­bit hole, but it feels like there’s mean­ing in this move.

Four-year-old Mi­rage Dancer has three wins from his 11 starts and never has been worse than fifth, but he also has never even com­peted above the Group 2 level. He has, how­ever, hinted at high­level abil­ity, and no horse in Hong Kong this week­end has a bet­ter pedi­gree than Mi­rage Dancer, who is by Frankel and out of the top-class turf race­mare Heat Haze. Moore has rid­den Mi­rage Dancer in his last three starts and hopes the best is yet to come from the colt – prefer­ably Sun­day.

“He’s a horse we’ve al­ways liked. He just wasn’t phys­i­cally ready as a 3-year-old,” Moore said Tues­day. “He’s the sort of horse Michael does re­ally, re­ally well with. He’s just had to be pa­tient with him.”

The 2,400-me­ter (about 1 ½-mile) Vase had stand­out per­form­ers last year in High­land Reel and Tal­is­manic, who fin­ished sec­ond. This edi­tion brings a much dif­fer­ent dy­namic. Waldgeist could be a tepid fa­vorite after a sea­son in which he was the lead­ing older horse in France, but there is noth­ing es­pe­cially for­mi­da­ble about Waldgeist on Sun­day. The Vase should be open to an im­prov­ing younger horse, a horse like Rostropovich – or Mi­rage Dancer.

Werther out of Hong Kong Cup

Werther, a former Hong Kong Horse of the Year, was with­drawn Wed­nes­day from the Hong Kong Cup be­cause of an en­larged sus­pen­sory lig­a­ment. The with­drawal was made of­fi­cial in a re­lease from the Hong Kong Jockey Club late Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

Trainer John Moore said ear­lier Wed­nes­day that he be­lieved Werther first sus­tained the in­jury dur­ing the run­ning of the Group 1 Takarazuka Ki­nen on June 18 at Han­shin Race­course in Ja­pan.

Werther, a New Zealand­bred who is a 7-year-old on North­ern Hemi­sphere time, was a two-time Group 1 win­ner dur­ing the 20162017 Hong Kong sea­son and fin­ished sec­ond a year ago in the Hong Kong Cup. More re­cently he was third in the BOCHK Jockey Club Stakes, his in­tended prep for Sun­day’s race.

De Sousa wins jockey chal­lenge

Sil­vestre de Sousa won Wed­nes­day night’s In­ter­na­tional Jockey Chal­lenge over 11 other rid­ers by land­ing two win­ners and putting up points in all four races that were part of the se­quence.

De Sousa fin­ished sec­ond in the open­ing leg, won the sec­ond leg, was third in third leg, and wrapped up his $64,000 share of a $102,400 to­tal purse by win­ning again in the last leg, race 8 on the Happy Val­ley card. Points were awarded 12-6-4 for top three fin­ishes and de Sousa to­taled 34.

The Ir­ish jockey Colin Keane won the first race in the se­ries and wound up sec­ond to de Sousa with 16 points. Amer­i­can-based Javier Castel­lano had a pair of sec­onds and fin­ished fourth.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.