Windsor Park-bred Aerovelocity will depart for Australia and a well-earned retirement at picturesque Muskoka Farm after a farewell ceremony at Sha Tin racecourse on Sunday, 25 June, when his army of fans will have one last opportunity to salute one of the toughest horses ever to have competed on the Hong Kong circuit.
The 2015 Hong Kong Champion Sprinter and four-time G1 victor retires as the only locally-trained horse to have won G1 races in three different jurisdictions, his record of 11 wins from 24 career starts yielding prize money of HK$45,252,368.
But there was always more to Aerovelocity than his latent ability. Every sports fan loves a fighter, especially one that rises through the ranks, defying expectations and reputations along the way. Paul O’Sullivan’s charge had all of that, as well as a heavy dose of brute charisma.
“He was just a warrior, really, a real bulldog,” said Zac Purton, the man who rode him in his last 20 races. “He’s probably the toughest horse that I’ve ever ridden, he goes out there and he leaves everything on the track.”
Toughness is Aerovelocity’s hallmark. O’Sullivan has worked with numberless horses in his lifetime and the former New Zealand champion trainer asserted: “I’ve been fortunate enough to be associated with a lot of great horses; Horlicks and Mr Tiz were world-class and, to be fair, this bloke was pretty close – he would certainly be the toughest and most tenacious horse I’ve ever put a saddle on!”
That grit was manifest multiple times, not least in the gelding’s last win. Two years on from a breakthrough Group 1 in the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) and one year after connections had heeded his negative physical cues and removed him from a defence of that trophy, Aerovelocity bounced back for a second triumph in the 2016 edition of the December feature. And it was achieved in typical battling style; a short-head verdict to keep the young upstart Lucky Bubbles in his place.
It was a fitting final win for a worthy hero who, in the short space of five months from December, 2014 to May, 2015, made history by winning the Hong Kong Sprint, Japan’s G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1200m) and Singapore’s G1 KrisFlyer International Sprint (1200m).
“It does feel like he’s been my mate for a while now and it will be sad to see him go,” Purton said. “I’d say he’s the best sprinter I’ve ridden, he’s a two-time Hong Kong Sprint winner and the only horse in Hong Kong to have won three G1s in three different countries in the same season. For me, of the sprinters I’ve ridden in Hong Kong, he’s at the top of that list.”
“Whenever he was in a fight though he was always up for it, he never laid down,” Purton continued. “He liked to bully other horses; he would always want to out-muscle them and that’s why we switched from a full blinker to a visor part-way through his career, just so he could see the other horses coming. I think it really helped him because when he did see them coming, you could feel him surge a bit for you and give you that little bit more.”
The headgear, bright pink to match his owner’s silks, became his trademark look.
Aerovelocity retires a couple of months short of his ninth birthday and O’Sullivan was quick to give credit for the horse’s longevity to owner Daniel Yeung, the man whose first horse turned out to be a star.
“The reason for his longevity is simply that he is owned by the right guy,” the trainer said. “He’s not the soundest horse in the world, and I said to Daniel about three years ago that he wouldn’t last if we wanted to run in everything, all the Group 3s and Group 2s as well as the Group 1s. He said, ‘just run him in the big ones, he’s up to it’, and that’s why he only has five or six runs every year.
“If he was owned by someone who wanted to run him in everything, he’d be well retired,” he added. “And things like, when he was up for a US$1m bonus if he wins the Hong Kong Sprint in 2015 but he had that heart irregularity, how many owners would say no to that? Ninety-nine per cent would say, just run, just run. But that’s why the bloke deserves everything he got. The reason he won the international this time around is solely due to the patience of the owner, no more, no less.”
Overcoming that heart irregularity and bouncing back from the minor colic that scuppered a planned follow-up assault on the 2016 Takamatsunomiya Kinen only enhance Aerovelocity’s folk hero status.
“He’d do anything for you,” O’Sullivan said. “So that’s how he will be remembered by me, he just loves a dogfight and he was good at it!”
Aerovelocity will join another former Hong Kong star, Champions Mile and SIA Cup hero Dan Excel, at his new home. The farewell ceremony will take place in the Parade Ring after race five on Sunday, 25 June.