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Guest columnist

Fine Needle: an honour to represent Japan in HK Sprint

By Harry Sweeney

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed’s involvement in Japan through Godolphin and Darley has been on-going for the past 10 to 15 years, while his racing stable has been in existence for the past eight to 10 years.

We aim to put 100 horses per year (per crop) into training in Japan. Most are home-breds from our own farm in Japan, bred by our own stallions.

Japan is unique in that all trainers must be registered with the Japan Racing Association, and official restrictions are then imposed regarding the numbers a licencee can train.

Each trainer has only approximately 20 boxes, so as a consequence, most trainers will take maybe two to three horses from us in any one year. Thus, we have 40 individual trainers working for us in Japan.

To further explain this unique situation, a trainer can have 45 to 50 horses on his books, but he has only 20 active training boxes made available to him at any one time.

To address this, we have our own pre-training farm at Hokkaido, which we acquired two years ago. More than 100 horses are being exercised there on any one day.

Fine Needle, Godolphin’s runner in the G1 Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin, is a product of the system we have in place in Japan.

A home-bred, by Darley stallion Admire Moon out of a Mark Of Esteem mare, Fine Needle is trained for us by Yoshitada Takahashi.

Fine Needle is an extraordinary horse. This year, he has run four times in Japan for four wins — he won two G1s, one G2, and one G3 — something that has never been achieved by a sprinter/ miler in Japan. Never.

He is therefore a major contender for the Japanese Sprinter/Miler title, which will be decided soon on the votes of a panel of racing journalists.

We are very optimistic he will be crowned champion, but again, it is up to those voting.

As for the Hong Kong Sprint, he’s a progressive horse and this has been his best year. The trainer is very happy with him. On international ratings, he needs to find a couple of pounds, but we are hoping he runs well and makes the frame.

With a horse such as Fine Needle, there are few race options available to him in Japan. Because of the focus on 10 and 12 furlong races, there are only two G1s at a distance less than one mile — and he’s won both of them this year.

He is a horse who must travel abroad now, and we’re honoured that he is representing Japan in Hong Kong. Fine Needle usually finishes his races strongly, and we’re hopeful for him. If he’s good enough, he’ll win.

Harry Sweeney is President of Darley Japan.