CARLSBAD — A Carlsbad farmer and small business owner is anxiously awaiting his 6-year-old gelding’s opportunity to compete for a $1 million purse in a May 6 race immediately preceding this year’s Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
Majority owner Jimmy Ukegawa, of Carlsbad, along with minority owners Scott Anastasi and Tony Valazza of Los Angeles, will watch from the stands in Louisville as their thoroughbred, Hong Kong Harry, riding under legendary jockey Flavien Prat, hits the Matt Winn Turf Course for nine furlongs in the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic.
The race, slated as the final contest before the Kentucky Derby, posts at 2:27 p.m. on NBC. Hong Kong Harry will start from the seventh gate and the current odds are 7/2 as of May 2.
“We’re really excited to be going out there,” Ukegawa said. “It’s a very competitive race. Harry had a terrific workout today (May 1). The horse can run all day and just loves it. We’ve never had a horse with this much personality.”
Ukegawa and his fellow co-owners purchased Harry for less than $150,000 during the pandemic. At the time, the chestnut-brown racehorse, bred by Amaranth Business Management from the Gold Away mare Vital Body, already had an impressive resume, winning four of seven races in England.
After traveling to the U.S. in 2022, Harry joined trainer Phil D’Amato in Southern California, running under jockeys Ramon Vasquez and Paul Hanagan. And it was D’Amato, a trainer with the most wins in Santa Anita history, who discovered cracks in Harry’s hooves.
According to Ukegawa, once D’Amato and his blacksmith treated his hooves, Harry started running at a higher level, showing off his outsized personality.
“(A cracked hoof) would be the equivalent to a hangnail,” Ukegawa said. “Once Phil figured out what was wrong with his (Harry’s) feet, he was a different horse. He won his first race and won his second race.”
In the last two years, Ukegawa and race enthusiasts have marveled as the Irish-bred Es Que Love gelding became a steady winner on the West Coast.
Under Prat, Hong Kong Harry won two of the biggest turf races last season at the Del Mar Racetrack — Del Mar Mile and Grade II Seabiscuit Handicap — topping career earnings of more than $400,000 at the seaside oval.
Hong Kong Harry and pilot, Flavien Prat, coming like a rocket to win the Del Mar Mile. 🚀 pic.twitter.com/iTI24yaWQm
— Del Mar Racetrack (@DelMarRacing) September 3, 2022
Harry’s style is one where he takes position in the back, finds his pace and then fires around the backstretch at full speed in the final push to the finish line, Ukegawa said.
Aside from riding Harry, Prat, a French-born rider grossing over $20 million in career earnings since 2009, recently made his own headlines after winning the 2019 Kentucky Derby (Country House) and 2021 Preakness Stakes (aboard Rombauer).
Hong Kong Harry, who is ranked in the top 5 in the U.S. for turf horses after winning five of his last seven races stateside, faces a stiff 10-horse field in the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic, including Spooky Channel, Up to the Mark and last year’s winner, Santin.
The field with riders from the rail out in the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic: Ocean Atlantique (Juan Hernandez), Master Piece (CHI) (Christophe Lemaire), Wolfie’s Dynaghost (John Velazquez), Steady On (Jose Ortiz), Up to the Mark (Ortiz Jr.), Earls Rock (IRE) (Luis Saez), Hong Kong Harry (Flavien Prat), Santin (Gaffalione), Spooky Channel (Rosario), Bye Bye Melvin (Manny Franco).
Following the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic, Hong Kong Harry is preparing to compete in this year’s Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 3-4 at Santa Anita.