Drier conditions needed for Blizzard deliver his best in Japan

Blizzard exercises on the turf track at Chukyo Racecourse this morning. Source: HKJC

TRAINER Ricky Yiu says he is desperate for sunny weather in Nagoya after his stable star Blizzard struggled through a gallop on rain-affected ground at Chukyo Racecourse this morning (Thursday, 22 March), three days before he tackles the G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1200m) at the track.

A wintery blast – almost blizzardly – has lashed Japan this week, with frosty temperatures and dreary conditions across the country. A total of 67mm of rain had fallen at Chukyo in the 72 hours prior to Blizzard’s Thursday hit-out, 30mm of which came in the 24 hours before the pre-dawn gallop.

Yiu and part-owner Andy Lau monitored Blizzard from high atop the empty Chukyo grandstand as the Starcraft six-year-old first schooled alone in the parade ring, and then took to the grass under regular trackwork partner Stanley Wong.

The chestnut struggled to gain his footing on the wet turf. Clicked up from the 1400m, Blizzard was put through his paces until the top of the 412-metre straight, when Wong allowed him to find the line under his own steam.

“I definitely think he likes good ground more,” Wong said. “That was his first time on the turf since arriving two weeks ago and I think he is happy, he’s fit, he handles the left-handed turns no problem. But wet ground? No.”

Yiu added: “In the end, it was pretty much 600m at top speed and he was stopping in the straight. It wasn’t the plan, I had expected to do a bit more work with him but I had already given him plenty of work in Hong Kong so it doesn’t worry me. When he went onto the track, you could hear it – he was slipping and it seemed like there was quite a bit of water on top.

“Of course, I hope he doesn’t have to run on a track which he’s uncertain about, so hopefully it is warmer and drier from now until Sunday. I’m desperate for the sun, really.”

As the Blizzard camp departed Chukyo Racecourse, blue skies emerged over Nagoya for the first time this week. Regular track watchers suggested that the track, which has been firm in recent months, should dry out sufficiently given the current forecast leading into Sunday’s (25 March) meeting.

The potential for wet ground is only a blip on an otherwise perfect preparation, according to Yiu. Since finishing fifth in Japan’s other G1 sprint, the Sprinters Stakes (1200m) at Nakayama in October, Blizzard produced a career-best effort when third in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint, before a last-start fifth in the G1 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m) on 28 January.

“We’ve been thinking about this race for a long time, ever since his good run in the Sprinters Stakes,” Yiu said. “Even when he ran well in the two Group 1 races in Hong Kong, this has been the target. We have freshened him up and he has travelled over well. He’s a great traveller – in fact, I think he might enjoy it here more than at home, he likes the environment here. The only problem is he’s a little bit lonely! But his weight is good, he’s not far off his usual weight in Hong Kong.”

The Takamatsunomiya Kinen will be Blizzard’s first attempt at a left-handed track on race day. However, Yiu says the reverse direction holds no concerns.

“We bought him from the Inglis Premier sale in Melbourne and he was prepared by Pat Carey at Mornington before coming to Hong Kong,” he said. “That’s in Victoria, where they race left-handed, so I think he probably did more education left-handed than right-handed. He definitely seemed OK this morning going that way, it is a very sharp turn into the straight but it doesn’t bother him.

“The only concern I have now is the weather, and if it’s dry, I hope that he can finish in the top four on Sunday.”.

The final declarations and barrier draw for the Takamatsunomiya Kinen will be released on Friday morning (23 March). The race will be simulcast for betting in Hong Kong and will jump at 2.40pm on Sunday, in between Races 4 and 5 at Sha Tin.