Me Tsui is seeking redress. The trainer’s Fight Hero ran a race befitting his name to place a close second in last year’s Korea Sprint (1200m) - after luck deserted - and on Sunday his Ugly Warrior will enter the Seoul sand track in an attempt to go one better.
“I want to win,” Tsui said, recalling the wide run from gate 13 and the barely believable, deep-closing stretch run that took the now-retired Fight Hero to within a head of Japan’s victorious Moanin.
Fight Hero was allotted that wide berth by dint of the local rules, after officials deemed his gate manners to be a potential problem should he break from an inner stall. That was a circumstance that the horse’s connections had not expected, and, while it was accepted with grace, one that they were not exactly thrilled about.
“The result was disappointing at the time, just beaten by a head. But then you look at it afterwards and think he ran a very good race from that outside draw – and when you think about it now, maybe avoiding that kickback was better,” Tsui said.
Ugly Warrior, a son of Swiss Ace who was purchased by Tsui as a Ready To Run two-year-old from Regal Farm's 2016 New Zealand Bloodstock draft, will break from a wide berth too, gate 12. But his gate positioning came after connections drew out that number at yesterday’s barrier draw.
“I think Ugly Warrior will be able to get a better position than Fight Hero, that part should be easier for him,” he said. “Fight Hero always needed to sit behind but Ugly Warrior can race in a forward position, or even midfield, and he can still do it.”
Derek Leung was aboard Fight Hero last year. Vincent Ho will ride Ugly Warrior and is expected to be at the track early on Saturday morning to partner the five-year-old at exercise.
Tsui, 58, is one of Hong Kong’s unsung trainers. His record is one of admirable consistency, reaping 51 wins and a third-place premiership finish at his best in the 2007/08 season, and averaging 36 wins per term over 14 seasons. He hit his 500th career win in May this year.
“I don’t know that I have success but my performance is very stable,” he said. “That’s a basic success. You need some good horses and good owners to support you and then you need luck. I am consistent around 30 to 40 winners.”
He worked his way through the ranks the hard way. A jockey in the early 1980s, he retired with 21 wins and continued as a work rider before taking the Assistant Trainer route to receiving his full licence to train.
“I was 16 years as a work rider with Brian Kan, two years with David Hayes and then eight years as Assistant Trainer to Francis Lui.
Those years with Kan, in particular, have shaped Tsui as a trainer. Kan was old school and is a Hong Kong racing icon, a five-time champion no less.
“He was a very tough trainer, tough and hard to the staff, but if you could handle his pressure you would be fine. Brian Kan, George Moore, Ivan Allan, if you could last more than two years you proved you were a very tough staff and could handle the pressure,” Tsui said.
“If you worked for them and you weren’t good enough, they would kick you out after one season. And if the staff couldn’t handle it, they would leave themselves. If you did more than three years, you’d proven your working ability and that you could deal with pressure,” he continued.
“Brian Kan wanted you to do two things: finish the job and then do it better. When you went back to the stable you had to look and find something to do, you couldn’t just sit around and say there was nothing to do.”
That grounding has kept Tsui steady in the mid-rank of Hong Kong’s trainers’ premiership. But what he has lacked over the years are big-name owners and high-class gallopers. His only Group race success to date came in 2014 when Divine Ten won the Bauhinia Sprint Trophy. But in Fight Hero he had a horse capable of following up a fine run here last year with a respectable sixth in the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (1200m, dirt) at Meydan in March. Tsui’s other previous overseas runner, Lucky Quality, was ninth in that Dubai race in 2009.
His hope is that Ugly Warrior can bring home a first high-profile overseas win. The signs this week at least suggest that the gelding is in good heart. This morning (Friday, 6 September), the chestnut cantered smoothly as Tsui looked on from the grandstand rail, beneath the stillness of a dark 5am sky.
“He looks quieter and steadier in his work than he is at Sha Tin,” he said. “Maybe this quiet environment makes him calmer – at Sha Tin his head is always going up and down at the canter but here he’s more concentrated. He’s the same in the box, he’s not shown any nervousness since he’s been here.”
Seoul’s sand track is the big unknown.
“It all depends on whether or not the horse can handle the track. I can’t make him like it,” he said. “The work rider said he’s enjoying the surface, he’s very smooth going step by step. In Hong Kong he’s sometimes a little bit keen and then slows down after 100 metres. But here he’s keeping the same action all the way down the home straight.
“The track being deep is maybe making him more careful.” -HKJC