Trainer David Hall’s talented G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) aspirant Little Giant arrived in Hong Kong in March 2016, just four months shy of three years ago and yet has raced, exceptionally well mind you, just five times since.
He was withdrawn on veterinary advice, lameness cited, when scheduled to first appear in Hong Kong on 27 November, 2016. Twelve months later to the day bar one, he was again scratched for the same reason when start four beckoned.
This information, most racing fans know - certainly those in Hong Kong. But why? The reason, Hall explains, stems from a quarter crack in the heels of the horse’s hoof which, at one point, deteriorated from one crack to three fissures.
A quarter crack is a vertical break or fracture in the hoof and the treatment is often a complex and time-consuming process which Hall knows only too well. The frustration compounded by the fact that, as the trainer notes, Little Giant is an otherwise “perfectly sound horse”.
“No hoof, no horse,” is an age old horseman’s adage and thus Hall was compelled to devote significant time and energy to get the horse right. “Quarter cracks are not uncommon with horses and certainly not uncommon here in Hong Kong with the humidity probably a factor. At one stage here, there were 30 or 40 horses with similar problems.
“In Little Giant’s case, it took a long time for the hoof to grow out and resolve the problem. We got him to the track last year, after a long time off, and he won two races and we thought we had him right but when a problem flared again we just had to give up on the season,” Hall said.
Giant's Leap and Zac Purton, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Thus he was sidelined again from November last year until October this year when he resumed with an impressive win at the course and distance of Sunday’s Group 1 contest.
“We eventually got on top of it (the quarter crack) and he’s come back really well. He was impressive first-up and I think the barrier beat him second-up,” Hall said in reference to his 10 November photo finish third to Rattan in the Class 1 Panasonic Cup Handicap.
“If he’d won that day, he’d have looked better placed ratings-wise in this race on Sunday. In a perfect world, or perhaps some other part of the world, you’d find a big Group 1 Handicap for him but that’s not an option here so we’ve really decided to roll the dice on Sunday.
“We could have waited a week for a Class 1 but he’d have 133 (pounds) and you can always be vulnerable to one down in the weights. You look at a horse like Winner’s Way whose last win was in a Class 1 and he was only two lengths off these good horses in the Jockey Club Sprint so I think we can take this option,” he said.
Hall said he was not concerned about the potential for a ratings hike, without an accompanying large cheque, if Little Giant was to run well, finishing close but not close enough. “I don’t think we run the risk of getting a greater penalty than he would for winning the Class 1 next week and these are the sort of races he will have to be running in at some stage,” he said.
As to the possibility of Little Giant getting both - a ratings lift and a big prize - Hall was understandably guarded but certainly not dismissive. “Touch wood, we’ve had no problem with this season so at least we get the chance to see what he’s all about. In time, he may well prove to be best in the 1400 to 1600 metres range but I’m comfortable with two runs under his belt and coming back from the 1400m (metres).
“I’d have liked to draw between three and six ideally, seven’s ok. As the marbles fell, the speed’s outside which should help him find a midfield slot. He’s still lightly-raced and has good upside. You’d hope there’s enough upside for him to overcome the rating’s scenario in Sunday’s race. We’ll see,” he said.