By David Morgan
The Hong Kong Jockey Club released its provisional December wish list on Wednesday (28 October) with the publication of its initial free nominations, an annual ‘look at me’ display which, in reality, means little until after the paint has begun to dry on the Breeders’ Cup honour roll and the Japanese have sifted through their own late-season features and finalised challengers.
As is usual six weeks out from the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races, the long-list has plenty of big names to whet the appetite. Japan’s head-turning mare Almond Eye, for one, is in there and she might even make the trip this time, but then again, she might not. The same can be said of Ireland’s class mare Magical, who left the Jockey Club red-faced last year when a communication breakdown saw her withdrawn just hours after being included in the one list that is interesting, November’s selected runners.
Will-they-won’t-they? is how these nominations play out in any given year: some of the lauded stars make the journey, most don’t, and it all works out in varying degrees of fine. But, in the year of Covid-19, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s senior management will have to be on their game – and on Zoom, to their government friends down the road in Tamar – if they are to put on a show of true international quality. No one wants to see the December show repeat last April’s sterling yet muted Covid-hit Champions Day.
Putting aside questions about whether or not any international raiders will make the journey, and can the Jockey Club get a deal to reduce human quarantine time – another Covid-19 spike in Hong Kong between now and then would surely be disastrous – there is one nagging question popping out from the list of nominations: Why wasn’t Beauty Generation entered in the Hong Kong Cup?
Now that the veteran champ is a year into his gradual decline, it would be natural for his owners, the Kwok family, and new trainer David Hayes, to think outside the box. To be fair, that is what they have done – but rather than take a sporting punt at the big one, the HK$28 million Cup, they have opted, as a possible Hong Kong Mile alternative, to post a secondary entry in the 1200-metre Hong Kong Sprint.
The move is not exactly out of the blue. Registered owner Patrick Kwok and family patriarch Simon Kwok have often expressed the view that they believe Beauty Generation’s optimum distance is 1400 metres. That position held fast last season when the old champ’s former handler John Moore mooted a return to 2000 metres for the first time since the bay’s four-year-old days, and it was mentioned as an aside too when the Road To Rock gelding was not shipped to Meydan to contest the G1 Dubai Turf in 2018, at what could have been an ideal 1800 metres.
On the face of it, Beauty Generation seemed to justify the Kwok line of thinking when he won the G1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup over 1400 metres for a third time on the bounce last February. Look more closely, though, and the reality is that his only considered rival that day, champion sprinter Beat The Clock, failed to run his race – and was always at his limit over the 1400 metres anyway. The depth was shallow too, with the support cast made up of high-class yet limited sprinters, as well as the miler Ka Ying Star who, as admirable as he is, would almost certainly not have got to within half a length of the champ in his pomp.
Beauty Generation, at his peak, was brilliant at 1400 metres and exceptional at 1600: he was a miler of rare power, a galloper with a cruising speed that was like a hybrid F1 Ferrari-meets-JCB bulldozer. The bay wouldn’t just beat his rivals at a mile, he would demolish them.
He did it from the front-end, winding off that Sha Tin turn into a quickening surge towards the winning post. His kick was strong, but it wasn’t an Able Friend-like flashing, dashing burst: there was nothing about him that said ‘sprinter’. Rather, peak Beauty Generation was a miler with not only a heap of class but also plenty of stamina – he even holds Sha Tin’s 2200-metre track record as a reminder that he was bought to excel at 2000 metres. It was that innate ability to stay beyond a mile that actually enabled him to run so powerfully at that 1600-metre distance.
Beauty Generation’s defeat first-up this season over 1400 metres – behind likely Hong Kong Mile runner Golden Sixty – looked like a case of a horse running-on to the line after being out-kicked; and last time, over a mile in the G2 Sha Tin Trophy Handicap, again behind Golden Sixty, Beauty Generation was out-sped when the field sprinted home off a steady pace.
In his heyday, Beauty Generation might have had the class to give the specialist sprinters a beating. Now, though, given the appearance that the eight-year-old has lost much of his kick, the more logical approach – if pressing on with his career – surely would be to tap into his long-since proven stamina reserves and step up to the Cup, the crown jewel in Hong Kong’s lucrative array.
Why pressure an ageing hero in the crucible of a speed test when he could settle easily in the front rank of a 2000-metre contest that is more often than not run with a pace-lull through the middle stage. Having filled his lungs, the big horse could roll off the turn and he just might find that his old legs still have enough speed in them to match the acceleration of his middle-distance rivals. Even if defeat follows, that scenario is surely more palatable than seeing one of the greatest horses to have graced Sha Tin have his legs run off him over a trip too short.
The Kwok family has invested a huge amount of resources into Hong Kong racing and the old line is always true that an owner has the right to decide their horse’s programme, but it is hard to see the Sprint being the right route for Beauty Generation at this stage, not unless the field cuts up to look so weak that it resembles a Group 3 – admittedly, that is a possibility in the time of Covid.
In all likelihood, he will contest the Hong Kong Mile for a fourth time and attempt to become only the second three-time winner of that race, but the tough fact is, unless Covid does prevent overseas participation, it is difficult to envisage the once mighty galloper doing anything more than run a fair race in defeat. The Cup option at least would have offered not only an intriguing sub-plot to the broader event, but also a sliver of hope, however slim, that yesteryear’s hero might move towards a deserved retirement with one last incredible glory.