‘Horses Don’t Come Back From Dubai’

Will Hong Kong great Able Friend fuel the argument that desert raiders return accursed?

 Anthony Delpech wins the Sheema on Vengeance Of Rain

Anthony Delpech wins the Sheema on Vengeance Of Rain

The argument that horses lose form after Dubai probably started with the Sheema Classic winner Vengeance Of Rain, who returned home a hero as Hong Kong’s first Dubai winner but was then put to the sword twice by Viva Pataca.

Trainer David Ferraris believed that the trip had flattened Vengeance Of Rain and left him vulnerable to a fresh rival. Ironically, trainer John Moore had wanted to take Viva Pataca to the Sheema Classic, too, after there was little between the pair at the finish of the Gold Cup, but he abandoned the idea after being stalled by Dubai officials waiting to see if another horse would come.

There had not been a great deal between them before their paths split, then Viva Pataca was vastly superior in the QE II Cup and Champions & Chater.

Vengeance Of Rain never won again in his five starts after Dubai before a heart problem saw him retired.

That was the root of the “horses don’t come back from Dubai theory” which is now bouncing around the margins of the Able Friend discussions.

Karis Teetan wins the HK Gr2 Chairman's Trophy

Able Friend wins the HK Gr2 Chairman’s Trophy

In the end, it may be the ham-fisted organisation of Sydney’s immature Championships against Dubai’s drive-through convenience that swings Able Friend’s immediate overseas target, if there is to be one, but is the desert bogey an old wives’ tale anyway?

Before Vengeance Of Rain, there had been six Hong Kong-trained visitors to Dubai.

In 2001, Indigenous ran in the Sheema, already an older horse who had not won in a long while and never did again. His stablemate, Fairy King Prawn, was an unlucky second in the Duty Free on the same trip and dropped back to the 1200m of the Chairman’s Sprint three weeks later to win easily.

Twelve months later, unheralded Helene Vitality surprised most with his second in the Sheema, then filled the same position in the Champions & Chater two runs later.

In 2004, sprinter Multidandy was well beaten on the dirt and didn’t race until the next season, winning just one race. Stablemates Bullish Luck and Russian Pearl went to the Duty Free two years later; Russian Pearl was none from five in the rest of his career, but Bullish Luck beat Silent Witness in the Champions Mile soon after returning then collected a Yasuda Kinen for good measure.

Since Vengeance Of Rain, it has been a mixed bag and more a case of cherry-picking the argument that suits you best. Many of the 29 visitors were towards the end of careers anyway, or at the brittle stage and retired soon after, but many had highlights still to come.

Good Ba Ba failed in the 2010 Duty Free and was a flop in his remaining seven starts, while Beauty Flash was winless in 22 runs after his eighth in the 2011 Duty Free. Together they might provide the strongest arguments against Dubai.

But Moore’s runners in Dubai provide strong positive angles, with some, like Sunny King and Dim Sum, returning career bests after their trips. Xtension won a Champions Mile a month after his Duty Free fifth and even Military Attack ran right up to his best after finishing fifth in the World Cup in 2014, Designs On Rome bettering him by just a neck in the QE II Cup next run. Viva Pataca was beaten in the QE II Cup and Champions & Chater immediately after his Sheema Classic second, but he still had another five wins ahead of him, including two Group Ones.

For the flipside of Sterling City – who had a second quick trip away to Singapore afterwards too, which may have had an impact – there are the likes of Joy And Fun, who continued to run through brick walls for another few years after his first Dubai trip. Or Lucky Nine, third in the Champions Mile – a distance that always stretched him – when he returned from third in the Golden Shaheen; he has carried on winning since.

Definitive? Hardly.

And certainly not a solid enough pattern on which to base programming decisions worth millions of dollars which must surely be made on a horse-by-horse basis.


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