By David Morgan
Latrobe gained the trivial distinction this morning of being the first overseas raider sighted at exercise ahead of next week’s LONGINES Hong Kong International Races, and on the jockey front Oisin Murphy will get a jump on his fellow fly-in riders with six mounts tomorrow night at Happy Valley.
The Irishman has enjoyed a stellar year so far – featuring nine top-flight wins – and arrives for a four-meeting Hong Kong sojourn with hopes of more Group 1 success. He is slated to partner Salouen in the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase and Beat The Bank in the LONGINES Hong Kong Mile on Sunday, 9th December.
“It’s a fantastic day to be part of and I’ve been trying to find the right type of horses in Europe for a while now,” he said, speaking from England. “Salouen is a horse with plenty of tactical speed who should be suited by Sha Tin and it would be great to end such a special year with a good run in one of the international races.”
Firstly, though, Murphy will head to the floodlit environs of Hong Kong racing’s historic home for rides in the first six contests on a stock eight-race Valley card, starting with the 18-race maiden Paddington in the Class 5 opener.
Murphy rode in Hong Kong on a short-term contract two winters back and flew in for two race days last term.
“Hong Kong racing is one of the most competitive racing arenas in the world so I’m really looking forward to coming back again,” he said.
“Because it’s so tough to win you can never go expecting too much but I’ve always enjoyed my trips in the past, and, although I’m only coming for the four meetings this time, it would be great to get aboard a winner or two.”
Murphy, still only 22, notched a respectable four wins during his first visit. Since then, his rapid rise to the top has continued unabated.
“I would hope my riding has improved a bit thanks to the experience I’ve gained in various countries,” he said of his international experience, which also included a whirlwind stint in Australia as an apprentice.
“But the bottom line is that I’ve had some very fast Group 1 horses to ride this year. Benbatl winning the Dubai Turf for Godolphin back in March was definitely one of the highlights, but Lightning Spear winning the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood was another and Roaring Lion has been a star all year long, and giving me some very special days including in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.”
John Moore has booked Murphy for Winning Circle in race six. The Duporth three-year-old appears to be a work in progress, having raced twice without making the frame for previous handler Michael Freedman.
“I’m hoping that at Happy Valley, with that little cushion in the track, this horse will be able to perform better than he has so far. He’s a reasonable type but he’s just a bit immature, he lacks focus,” he said.
And the handler is happy to utilise Murphy’s talents.
“From what I’ve seen of him he’s risen to a very high level on the world stage pretty quickly,” he said. “We’re lucky to have jockeys of this calibre coming into Hong Kong with regularity – he looks like he’s one of the best around.
“With jockeys coming in for a short spell, like Murphy and (Silvestre) De Sousa, you’re looking for guys that will come in and really focus, because it’s not a holiday. As trainers, we want to see them come in and really show that they’re committed every time they go out and ride – it’s a serious business here and we only want to put up riders that will give 100 percent.”
Moore will rely on an established Hong Kong great as his jockey in the evening’s finale, though. Douglas Whyte will look to go back-to-back on the stable’s Good Beauty, having driven the four-year-old to a breakthrough win last start.
“I said to the owner last time that although he was big odds he definitely was an each-way chance. He had done everything right leading into the race, he’d drawn well and Dougie gave him a gun ride,” he said.
“This time he’s a much fitter horse. His work leading in has been exemplary, he couldn’t have done any better and he’s drawn pretty well (6).”
Wednesday’s meeting is the last at the venue before the LONGINES International Jockeys’ Championship on 5th December when some of the world’s best riders will compete.
By that juncture, the Sha Tin tracks will be a blur of activity and Irish Derby winner Latrobe, who enjoyed a light lob around the circuit this morning, will have plenty of fellow international gallopers to keep him company.