The fact they were all mares – and the trio’s dominance at weight-for-age level – reflects not only the breeding industry’s unhealthy obsession with speed and precocity, but is a result of the all-male drain to Asia from the top tier of Australian racing.
Season after season, the top young colts are rushed off to stud before being risked against seasoned opposition and the second tier sold to Hong Kong.
And yes, they are all colts and geldings – a challenging environment and an absence of races for fillies and mares mean horses of the fairer sex at Sha Tin are a rarity. Of the more than 1250 horses in training in Hong Kong, none are fillies or mares.
To the chagrin of many racing fans, The Autumn Sun never raced Winx and he won’t race again after being whisked off to stud. On Wednesday the horse he edged out in the Rosehill Guineas, Arrogant, was confirmed as sold to Hong Kong. Last week it was two-year-old Prince Of Sussex sold for a rumored $1.9 million – more than three times he had won on the track. Add 2018 Victoria Derby winner Extra Brut and group 2 winner Global Exchange to the list of second-tier talents taken off the shelf last week. Surely Sacred is on his way and Thinkin’ Big is already there.
In just over three weeks the Queensland Derby will provide even more departures, with the last three winners of the race – Werther, Ruthven and Dark Dream – sold to Hong Kong, as well as a sprinkling of placegetters.
Werther – a three-time Group 1 winner that got better with age – would have been one of the horses battling for second behind Winx had he stayed in Australia, while Hong Kong’s current star Beauty Generation – winner of nine straight – was another late-developing type that would have given her something to chase. They both compare favourably with the likes of Winx’s whipping boys Happy Clapper, Humidor, Highland Reel or Hartnell.
Another plane touched down in Hong Kong this week with 16 Australian exports aboard, group 3 winner Tin Hat among them, but nine of them sold after simply showing promise in barrier trials.
With an expansion into mainland China and new training centre allowing Hong Kong’s horse population to expand, expect even more pressure on Australian owners to sell. Over the past three years, the number of annual Hong Kong owner permits has risen from 320 to 450. The new training mainland centre at Conghua in mainland China could, in time, allow the population to grow to more than 1800 horses.
There are also some that argue that the two-kilogram allowance in weight-for-age races is unfair when it comes to outliers like Black Caviar and Winx – physical freaks with athletic capabilities already superior to male counterparts. But taking the allowance away from mares after they win a certain number of weight-for-age races would be a Band-Aid solution.
While the sale of young horses to Hong Kong brings welcome financial reward, it leaves a void in the racing ranks.
What can be done? The prizemoney war which will see more than half a billion delivered back to owners in Victoria and New South Wales this season doesn’t seem to be helping much. The Everest and Golden Eagle – combined prizemoney of $20 million – has kept the already Hong Kong-owned Classique Legend in the country, but hasn’t stopped the others from departing.
On paper, and leaving its deliberately disruptive timing aside, the $7.5 million Golden Eagle for four-year-olds seems a solid incentive to keep an elite three-year-old, but already the most talked about weight-for-age contenders for next season are fillies. Mystic Journey and Arcadia Queen are top of the list, and then there’s Very Eleegant, Fundamentalist, Nakeeta Jane and Qafila – who put a space on a sub-par group of boys in last weekend’s SA Derby. Given that list, what are the odds that Australian racing’s next bona fide superstar is another queen of the turf?