Trainer Me Tsui has created something of a reputation as a force on the Sha Tin all-weather, but he admits that Seoul’s sandy, almost beach-like track is a new frontier entirely as he aims to bring home Korea Sprint glory with Fight Hero on Sunday (9 September).
Tsui shared honours with Frankie Lor as the most successful trainer on the Sha Tin dirt last season, notching 15 wins on the surface. Two of these came with Fight Hero, a French Listed winner who has emerged from seemingly nowhere as Hong Kong’s latest international runner.
The handler said that the Korea Sprint came onto his radar for Fight Hero after the bay won a Class 2 over 1200m on dirt in June, taking his domestic rating up to 102.
“I didn’t expect that he would travel either, but it is very hard to find suitable races on dirt in Hong Kong for a horse with his rating,” Tsui said at Seoul Racecourse this morning (Saturday, 8 September).
“He has run well fresh before and so we thought, why not? It’s worth a lot of money.”
A day out from the 700 million won (HK$4.88m) Korean Group 1, Tsui reported all was well with Fight Hero after inspecting him at the stables. The Footstepsinthesand gelding completed a light lap of the Seoul sand this morning, unextended but looking sharp and well.
“He has been in Korea a week or so and I am very happy with him,” Tsui said.
“You should see him in the stables, he’s loving it here. It is more quiet than he is used to at Sha Tin and it is better for him. He’s enjoying life.
“I didn’t give him a barrier trial as I wanted to keep him fresh. He didn’t barrier trial once last season and I think it was better for him.”
Fight Hero is Tsui’s second runner abroad; the first, Lucky Quality, finished ninth to Big City Man in the 2009 Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (1200m) at Nad Al Sheba. The 57-year-old trainer has not ruled out a return to Dubai, either, with a belief that 1400m dirt handicaps at Meydan will prove even more suitable to Fight Hero than the 1200m and 1650m options on offer at Sha Tin.
“It’s something we can think about,” he said. “I hope he can show his true ability on Sunday first and then we might be able to look at other races, either in Hong Kong or elsewhere.”
At Thursday’s (6 September) barrier draw, Fight Hero was automatically assigned the outside barrier – gate 13 – with “safety issues” specified as the reason. However, Tsui believes it ended up being a positive for the seven-year-old, who is noted for his get-back run style.
“Both the Hong Kong starter and Korean starter had discussed my horse,” Tsui said.
“We know that in Hong Kong he can be a little bit playful in the stalls. In Korea, the starter can decide that horses like him, who can play up, should start from the outside – obviously, it’s better for him as he’s not in the gates so long, and it’s also fair for the other horses.
“Fight Hero will be going back in the field anyway and sitting behind other horses, so a wide draw works for us. If he was drawn inside, he would have been in trouble after the first 200m, getting a lot of kickback. He can stay out of it that way and it gives us more options into the straight.”
Fight Hero is Hong Kong’s third runner in the Korea Sprint, which is in its third year in its current form.
The Tony Millard-trained Super Jockey was dominant in victory in 2016, while heavily-favoured Lucky Year finished second last of 15 runners last year, with the Danny Shum-prepared galloper outpaced early and clearly labouring on the beachy Seoul sand.
Which begs the question: how will Fight Hero handle the surface? Tsui admits it is an unknown.
“I haven’t seen any negatives for him about handling the track, but we won’t know until raceday,” he said.
Jockey Derek Leung, who rode Fight Hero in a piece of work on Friday morning (7 September), also believes that it is not a question that will be answered until raceday.
“He was relaxed on the surface, just as he’s been relaxed in his surroundings here in Korea,” Leung said. “I don’t think we can know how he will handle the track on raceday until the gates open.”
The 13-runner Korea Sprint, which also features visitors from France, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and the United States in addition to eight locals, will jump at 2.45pm Hong Kong time. It will be simulcast for betting between races four and five at Sha Tin on Sunday.