The first Hong Kong runners for Chris Waller and Kris Lees will be accompanied by a liberal dose of nostalgia for two of Australia’s best racehorse trainers.
As Waller puts the finishing touches on Preferment for the Hong Kong Vase and Lees takes up the challenge with Lucia Valentina in the Hong Kong Cup, memories of their first visit to the Asian racing capital almost two decades ago are still vivid.
Waller and Lees travelled together as young strappers who were in charge of two horses getting ready for the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, one of Hong Kong’s biggest races.
Working for New Zealand trainer Paddy Busuttin, Waller made the trip with a horse called Sam McGuire and Lees was entrusted by his late father Max to look after Potential Star.
Both horses finished out of the placings but Waller said the experience was invaluable.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Waller said.
“Going there as a strapper was a huge thrill, even before we got on the plane.
“I watched the AJC Derby from the back straight while we were waiting for the float to be loaded.”
The 1996 Derby turned into an epic edition with Octagonal beating Saintly, Filante and Nothin’ Leica Dane in one of the best finishes to the blue-riband Classic.
There was also another strapper making the journey on that Sydney autumn day who will also be an influential figure on Hong Kong International Day on December 13.
Former trainer Oliver Koolman now manages a string of racehorses at Hermitage Thoroughbreds and his farm has played a role in Preferment’s preparation for Sha Tin.
“It’s quite unbelievable to think that three strappers will be on the same international stage nearly twenty years later,” Waller said.
“Kris Lees is taking a horse back for the first time and Ollie has got big owners in Hong Kong and a beautiful farm outside Sydney.
“Preferment spells at his property and it’s where he spent five days in a paddock after the Melbourne Cup.”