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Connections were all smiles after Singapore’s champion Lim’s Kosciuszko drew barrier two for Sunday’s HK$32 million (S$5.5 million) Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile (1600m) at the Longines Hong Kong International Races Barrier Draw ceremony on Thursday morning.
But, trainer Daniel Meagher knows his 'little horse' faces one of the biggest tests in racing because he will be taking on not only the local stars who have dominated this race in recent years, but also the Japanese raiders who have won the race twice since 2015.
Household names like Hong Kong's Golden Sixty (2020 and 2021) and Beauty Generation (2017 and 2018) have won this race twice, while the iconic Good Ba Ba remains the only horse to have won it thrice in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The mighty Maurice won this race in the same year he was crowned Japan's Horse of the Year in 2015, and in recent years, Admire Mars won under the famous rising sun flag as a three-year-old in 2019.
An honour roll to rival any Group 1 race in the world and this year's Longines Hong Kong Mile looks extremely strong on paper with fan favourite, Golden Sixty heading the market, in search of his third win in the 1600m feature race.
However, the Francis Lui-trained champion galloper drew the outermost barrier in the 14-horse field, making regular jockey Vincent Ho's job all the more difficult.
Last year's winner, California Spangle drew much better in gate three while another Hong Kong fancy, Beauty Eternal also drew well in gate five. His stablemate, Beauty Joy, will jump from barrier six.
Japan has five runners in the field. Soul Rush, who breaks from barrier 11, will have admirers given popular jockey Joao Moreira takes the ride, but perhaps the pick of the raiders would go to Serifos, with jockey Yuga Kawada likely to get a gun run after drawing favourably in gate four.
The fact that Lim's Kosciuszko o is even mentioned in the same breath as some of these top-rated gallopers is testament to his unmatched feats in Singapore. With jockey Damian Lane jumping on board from gate two, the son of Kermadec will be in the thick of things from the get-go.
It will be a daunting task for them, but Meagher cannot wait to watch the race unfold come 4pm on Sunday.
"We're here to race," said Meagher, who went on stage for the draw.
"Good gate, great jockey and the horse will be spot on come Sunday; so no excuses our end.
"But I'm under no illusion about the task ahead for Lim's Kosciuszko. He's up against six or seven genuine superstars, so we will know where he is at after the race for sure.
"At the end of the day, he's done all he can back home (in Singapore) and is rated internationally, so he deserves his spot in the field.
"I think the Mile is a tougher ask than the (Group 1) (Longines Hong Kong) Sprint (1200m), but in saying that, the pace in a race like this will suit him.
"If Damian can get him to relax from gate two, I think he (Lim's Kosciuszko) will do us proud."
While Lane, who will arrive in Hong Kong on Thursday evening, has yet to acquaint himself with Singapore's reigning Horse of the Year, Meagher knows the star of Lim's Stable will be in safe hands.
"He's world-class," said the Australian conditioner of Lane.
"We will catch up for a final briefing on Saturday at the hotel but jockeys like Damian just know what to do. (Track rider and jockey) Jimmy (Wong Chin Chuen) will give him a few pointers on his (Lim's Kosciusko) quirks, but not much else is needed, really.
"He has probably ridden against most of these horses and more than holds his own against all the jockeys, which is in his (Lane) favour; so we're in very good hands.
"I'd like to think we have ticked most of the boxes to be ready for this race. In the back of my mind – especially after last year - there is a doubt that maybe he (Lim's Kosciuszko) might not handle the track, but apart from that, we are good to go."
With 99% of his job done, Meagher is keen to enjoy the racing festival but admitted it was hard given the occasion.
"I am enjoying it but it's still stressful," he said.
"I'm here to showcase Singapore racing. It is a good product and it would be unreal to go out with a bang with Lim's Kosciuszko running well on the world stage under the Singapore flag.
"(Trainer) Tim (Fitzsimmons) texted me after he saw a photo of me at the barrier draw and told me to smile more, but honestly, I am having fun but I still have to worry about the horse and what I can do better.
"(Wife) Sabrina is coming to the races but unfortunately, (owner) Mr Lim (Siah Mong) can't make it, but his brothers Boon and Henry will be here and they enjoy a good time, so I'm looking forward to that."