As Hong Kong’s racing season comes to a close at Sha Tin on Sunday night, expat Kiwi trainer Jamie Richards reflects positively on his first season training in the Asian racing jurisdiction.
The former Te Akau Racing head trainer has enjoyed his first foray into training in Hong Kong where he has recorded 35 wins from 334 starts, accruing more than HK$36 million (NZ$7.2 million) in prizemoney.
“I think it has been a good start, but there is always room for improvement,” Richards told SENZ’s The Good Oil.
“I think we have had nearly 350 starts this season, but we need to have a lot more than that next season to play the rating game, which is what you have to do in Hong Kong.
“I would like to think we can have 400 to 500 runners next year, just to give ourselves a chance to train more winners.
“Our strike-rate of winners-to-runners is quite high and that is something we are pleased with, but ultimately you have got to run your horses more.”
Richards’ latest win came at Happy Valley last Wednesday courtesy of Seasons Wit, and he was delighted to get the result after a quiet patch.
“We were on a pretty long run of outs before Seasons Wit got over the line there on Wednesday night, just with our horses that we had had had won races and got up in the handicap,” he said.
“That was really our last decent dart we had to throw at the board on Wednesday night and thankfully he did a good job.
“He has come a long way that horse. He has won three races this season, which is very difficult to do, particularly in your first season. They usually take a bit of time to acclimatise.
“He is only a three-year-old and he carried 135 pounds, which is about 61kg, to win on Wednesday night. He has done a really good job and has earned a lot of prizemoney. He has been a big help to the stable this season.”
Richards said he has learnt a lot from his first season training in Hong Kong and he is looking forward to applying that knowledge next season with some welcome reinforcements.
“We have just got to play the handicap game a little bit better,” he said.
“If you don’t run your horses then they don’t lose points, and if they don’t lose points then they are pretty much stuck on their rating. They have got to race and go up and down the handicap and find their mark.
“We have got about 55 (horses) at the moment with a capacity of 70. When you are a single site trainer and only have horses at Sha Tin, you are allowed 60, and when you have access to the Conghua stable, which is the racecourse in China, then your capacity goes to 70.
“We have got new horses coming, two horses got out of quarantine the other day and we have got four in the next shipment. The numbers are steadily building, but they need time to acclimatise and hopefully the horses that we have raced this season might be able to cop a bit more racing next season.
“It does take a little time for them to get used to that (racing in Hong Kong), but now that we have looked after them in their first season, we are hoping that they can handle it a bit better next season. We have just got to play around with how we train them and manage owners’ expectations.
“We are looking forward to the new season and we are hoping the horses continue to raise the bar.”
Richards is also excited to be welcoming multiple Group One winner Wellington to his barn on his return from Royal Ascot.
“He is a headline sprinter here in Hong Kong and went to Royal Ascot and things didn’t pan out there for him,” Richards said.
“He is back in Hong Kong now and is in quarantine, he gets out next week.
“It will be an honour to train a horse of his calibre. He is getting a little bit older now, he is turning seven on August 1.
“Hopefully he has got a little bit of life left in his legs and with a little bit of change of routine or change in stable, we might be able to spark him up a bit.
“We are looking forward to him arriving and seeing how we got on with him."