Racing: Indigenous boost to local population

Sue Montgomery says Ascot's big day needed an Asian touch
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THE PRESENCE of a horse called Indigenous in the field for Saturday's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes could be construed as a case of Hong Kong phew. In its role as the first European leg of the new Emirates World Series, racing's attempt at structured globalisation, the great Ascot summer showpiece was in danger of becoming as cosmopolitan as a village fete with the defection of top horses from France, Germany and America. Indigenous, trained at Sha Tin on the former island colony by Ivan Allan, has just about salvaged the international aspect.

The six-year-old will create a milestone in the sport as the first Hong Kong-trained horse to run in Europe. Plenty make the reverse journey but the traffic tends to be one-way for sound economic reasons. Prize money is so good in Hong Kong (its source, betting revenue, comes via a totalisator, with no bookmakers to siphon it away) that there is no need to leave the back yard. The winner of the lowliest race can pick up around pounds 30,000; Indigenous himself has won 12 races and more than pounds 2m in the past two seasons.

Standards have steadily been rising on the Pacific Rim - witness three European Group One victories by Japan-trained horses in the past 12 months - and the Emirates World Series has given the Hong Kong Jockey Club the incentive to begin to fly the flag in the western hemisphere. Allan, Malaysian- born but with bloodstock and racing interests worldwide, is a willing partner in the venture.

This first foray is for sporting, rather than financial, gain, though there is pounds 600,000 on offer. Indigenous is the best middle-distance horse in Hong Kong but, against the likes of Derby hero Oath and Coronation Cup winner Daylami, is a 20-1 shot and Allan is under no illusions about the task he faces. A respectable run, though, will be pretty important. Sixty thousand howled him home when he repelled the overseas challenge - headed by Darazari from New Zealand and Taipan from Britain - in the International Vase at Sha Tin in December and his every move has been followed since he took up temporary residence with Peter Chapple-Hyam last month.

Allan, whose Commanche Run won the 1984 St Leger, said: "He travelled great and is well in himself. He stays very well and fast ground and a fast pace will suit him. The course, right-handed like Sha Tin, should be no problem. Although he's used to a flat track, he has been practising going up and down hill at Manton.

"But my nagging worry is he has not had a break for nearly 12 months. This plan was not hatched until April, when he had two big races coming up at home and we couldn't change his schedule. So this test, the toughest of his career, comes at the end of a hard year. But I am glad to be here. Racing, like other sports, must go global."

The Irish-bred Indigenous, a son of the Derby runner-up Marju, is a rags- to-riches horse. He cost just 10,500 guineas as a yearling, started his career with Kevin Prendergast in Co Kildare (under the name Qualtron) and made the transfer to Hong Kong after winning a couple of ordinary handicaps as a three-year-old.

Allan acquired him by default after his first trainer in the colony lost his licence, his new owner Pang Yuen Hing gave him a new name and the transformation was completed when the attentions of a vet's scalpel enabled him to find a hitherto unsuspected level of ability. He will make another bit of history by being the first gelding to run in the King George since the race was opened to them in 1986.

Accompanied by his regular rider, Doug Whyte, he made the acquaintance of Ascot on Friday morning in a spin over the mile-and-a-half course. With a bright red bridle and ankle wraps setting off his gleaming dark bay coat, he cut something of a flighty figure as he jigged and curvetted behind a stablemate. But in the straight, despite a momentary loss of balance up the unfamiliar rising terrain, he stretched clear with a will.

The odds, and the form book, will not be in his favour this week, but one quality Indigenous does not lack is courage. "He doesn't know when to throw in the towel," said Whyte, a 27-year-old South African. "In the International Vase he ran at Darazari two out and went past him, but Darazari came back and actually headed him. I could feel I had nothing left, but he found me something and got up by a neck. He will be up against it, but he's a horse who is all heart."