It’s not often overseas horses travel to Japan in search of softer Group One options but that is the rationale behind Blizzard’s trip to Tokyo for Sunday’s Sprinters Stakes.
“We don’t want to keep coming third and fourth to the best sprinters in Hong Kong,” Blizzard’s part owner Andrew Chan Shiu-shan said while watching his horse amble around Nakayama’s dirt course. “I think we have more chance here, those top three or four sprinters in Hong Kong are very strong, so we have looked for another opportunity outside.”
While the credentials of Japan’s milers, middle-distance and staying ranks are not in doubt, the overall strength of the country’s sprinters has been considered subpar since Lord Kanaloa’s retirement in 2013.
Even though Blizzard’s owners believe they have found an easier race by travelling aboard, early indications are that the six-year-old will be sent out at similar odds to trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai’s last Sprinters Stakes winner Ultra Fantasy, who caused an upset at 31-1 in 2010.
Connections are still confident of a good result, banking on Blizzard’s renowned toughness to kick in over the closing stages of the 1,200m contest on a course that features a testing uphill rise.
“I saw somewhere that he might be 35-1, which is to be expected, being a sole overseas horse coming to Japan,” Chan said.
“The best thing about him is that he is more like a 1,400m horse, and that’s what you need here over that last 200m when you go up that slope.”
Chan also said that Blizzard might be ridden more conservatively than was indicated earlier in the week, when Yiu’s first reaction to drawing gate 12 was that he would instruct jockey Gerald Mosse to push forward.
“I think the racing style here should suit him. He likes to settle around midfield and then come to the outside. He should run a very good race,” the owner said.
Chan is Hong Kong-born but studied in Australia and his first exposure to racing came as a university student.
“Blizzard is my first horse in Hong Kong, but I first became involved in a racing syndicate in my first year of college,” Chan said, with his ownership in Group One sprinter Rebel Dane a highlight.
The Infinitude Syndicate paid A$75,000 (HK$458,000) for Blizzard as a yearling, a value buy for a Starcraft gelding that has now won eight from 26 and earned more than HK$23.5 million in prize money.
Clearly Chan has caught the racing bug: he has two permits to fill for next season and the investment banker has also parlayed his success into bloodstock.
“We have formed a company called Upper Bloodstock and we are planning on buying 15 to 20 yearlings every year,” he said. “So we have many good horses to choose from for ourselves and our friends as well.”
For now the focus is on Nakayama, where the five syndicate members and an entourage of around 30 friends and family will attend the races on Sunday.
Trainer Yiu attended trackwork on Saturday to oversee Blizzard’s final piece of work and seemed content heading into the Ұ212,280,000 (HK$14.7 million) feature.
“He looks very happy, he looks better than when I saw him a couple of days ago. He was moving well this morning,” Yiu said. “I’m happy – he’s very relaxed now that he’s got to know the place.”