CHAMPIONS MILE (Group 1)
Sha Tin, Turf, 1600m
4 May 2014
Variety Club is already a multiple Group 1 winner; has twice been crowned South African Horse Of The Year; and earlier this year dazzled Dubai with a comprehensive defeat of some notably talented milers to take the Group 2 Godolphin Mile with some ease. But on Sunday (4 May), the five-year-old will face the stiffest task of his storied career in the Group 1 Champions Mile at Sha Tin racecourse.
“I think this horse is one of the best milers in the world but when you come to the Hong Kong milers, they are the best in the world,” said Trevor Brown, assistant trainer to Mike de Kock. “You only have to look at their record in this race. You’ve got to respect them. They grind and then they kick.”
Sunday’s race will be the five-year-old’s first start for de Kock, a three-time winner of International Group 1 races in Hong Kong, but the Champions Mile is not among them. The trainer has had five previous shots at the race with Musir’s third-place in 2011 being his best result. Then again, Hong Kong-trained horses have won each of the nine editions since the race was opened to overseas runners. Indeed, Musir’s effort matched the best ever placing by an overseas horse in the contest.
Brown looked on contentedly this morning as Variety Club completed his final serious piece of work on the turf course. The Var horse finished off an 800m gallop in 50.9s (28.3, 22.6) under big-race pilot Anton Marcus.
“I’m happy with his work this morning - Anton seemed very happy,” said Brown, “we didn’t want anything too over the top, just a little piece of work, a nice gallop and that’s what we got. He’s in good shape. We were a little concerned that he had to travel here by himself, later than his two stablemates, last week, but he’s taken it well, he’s a true professional.”
The experienced Marcus, who was originally best known as the younger brother of former Hong Kong champion jockey Basil Marcus, has forged a reputation as a man for the big occasion with numerous Group/Grade 1 triumphs and five champion jockey titles in South Africa. He has also ridden in Hong Kong, chalking up a total of 144 winners in six racing seasons. It is he who will have to negotiate a route to victory from gate 12 of 14, a berth wider than most would prefer.
“He generally goes forward but he has been ridden off the pace and won at home in South Africa. We’ll have a think about what we might do. I’ll leave that up to Anton, he knows the horse,” said Brown.
Variety Club faces 13 rivals in a top-class renewal that also features the leading local contenders Able Friend, Glorious Days, Gold-Fun and last year’s victor Dan Excel, as well as the talented overseas raiders, the three-time G1 winner Gordon Lord Byron, Mshawish from France and the Japanese challenger Meiner Lacrima.
Extract from Hong Kong Jockey Club