According to Mick Smith, trainers aren’t meant to have favourites, but he is happy to admit that old stager, Hello China, tops his list.
“He is my best friend. He can be grumpy, as his feet can hurt him sometimes, and he expects to be the king, but he still is my fav – I know you’re not meant to have favs, but he is my fav,” Smith laughed.
“When he does eventually retire, I am going to miss him.”
The Queanbeyan trainer has shared the ups and downs of racing with his talented nine-year-old, first coming together in late 2015 before going on to win seven races from 43 starts.
The Artie Schiller gelding has battled foot issues throughout his career, but has still managed to win from 1600m to 2120m, even placing over 3200m on his way to winning over $125,000 in prizemoney, but Smith lamented that this would be Hello China’s final campaign.
“He is a wonderful horse, but this is his last campaign,” Smith said.
“He has been a magnificent horse, last year he won first up at a mile and at the end of last year he should have won over two mile – that is just the type of horse he is.”
Hello China’s catchy name has also won him fans all over the South East and Southern Districts and while the gelding was already named when they met, Smith explained it was always a conversation starter.
“It’s a great name, he’s out of a mare called Beijing Bound, and whoever named him has picked a fantastic name,” Smith laughed.
“It’s even funny, the stewards come around and say, ‘Hello China’. There is always someone asking about him or his name.”
Hello China kicked off his career in Sydney, spending time with Gerald Ryan, but he wasn’t quite up to city standard, and soon found himself in the sale ring, and Smith said it was love at first sight.
“I went to the Inglis sales in Sydney, and I was looking for a tried horse. I had an apprentice at the time and needed more horses,” Smith said.
“I feel in love with him straight away. He had no head collar, no one was there with him, and he hadn’t been brushed.”
Soon enough, Smith had worked out why Hello China wasn’t firing during his trials in town, and it took a little while longer to work out how his gelding wanted to be trained.
“He was with Gerald Ryan, but he was too slow and as soon as I got him, I realised he had problems with his feet,” Smith said.
“I have basically nursed him along year after year. At first, I tried to race him to keep him fit and that didn’t work, and then I worked out I could keep him fit and race him when it suited him.”
Since working out that Hello China prefers some cut out of the ground, the stable has tasted plenty of success with their stayer, winning races at Wagga (3), Goulburn, Nowra, Kembla Grange and Gundagai.
“I just basically keep him at home until we find a wet track for him because he has those feet issues,” Smith said.
“That means he might have been at home in work for three months and then people think he is coming back from a spell, but really, we have just found a track and race that suits him.
“It is pretty easy these days, we need three things for him to go well; staying races, wet ground and some idiot to put the pace into it.”
During his career, Shaun Guymer has been the man to taste the most success aboard Hello China, winning six times on the ‘quirky’ galloper.
“The horse is a really quirky horse, and an example is when Kathy O’Hara rode him and she came back and said she couldn’t get him going but Shaun Guymer has won on him six times out of his seven wins,” Smith said.
“The horse and him are a team – they just go well with each other.”
Smith and Guymer will get another chance to win with Hello China when they team up at Queanbeyan on Tuesday.
The old boy will jump from gate two in the 2000m Benchmark 58 Handicap, and Smith explained that it was a last-minute decision to race on his home track after the Canberra meeting scheduled for last Friday was moved to Queanbeyan.
“He wasn’t going to the races because he wasn’t going to Canberra,” Smith said.
“All of a sudden, there was a meeting on at Queanbeyan and I saw it was going to rain and there was suddenly a 2000m (Benchmark) 58, so we entered him.
“I have been sitting at home waiting for him to race on a wet track, and this race should suit.”
Smith hoped that Hello China would see out his career with a win during his last preparation, and it only seems fitting he gets a good chance on his home track on Tuesday.
“We can only dream,” Smith laughed.
“We would love to see him win one, maybe a couple more races before he is retired.”
To check out Hello China’s form and the Queanbeyan fields, readers can click here.