Able Friend’s title defense, Designs on Rome’s comeback & more in Jockey Club Mile

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

November 20th, 2015

With just about three weeks to go until Hong Kong’s International Races on December 13, the big local guns are lining up for their preps at Sha Tin Saturday (or very, very late Friday night if you’re in the Western Hemisphere).

Able Friend, the reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year, is the one they’ve all got to beat in the Jockey Club Mile (G2). Eight-for-nine going the metric mile at Sha Tin, the powerhouse blew through this race last year before dominating the Hong Kong Mile (G1) on International Day. His winning streak grew to six until his misadventure at Royal Ascot, where he ran well below form when sixth behind Solow.

Back with a bang in the October 25 Premier Bowl at about six furlongs, Able Friend blitzed a quality field of sprinters under top weight of 133 pounds. The Australian-bred son of Shamardal may have run almost too well there, and his opponents will have to pin their hopes on a regression second time out. He’ll bide his time from post 6 with regular rider Joao Moreira, the “Magic Man.”

His trainer, John Moore, can boast both quality and quantity in the Jockey Club Mile. For also among his five-strong team is previous Horse of the Year Designs on Rome, who’s making his first start back since undergoing arthroscopic surgery for bone chips in his front fetlocks. Resuming over a trip shorter than his preference, he’ll do his best work late and may get up for a placing. The goal is to tighten him up for the big prize, a title defense in the about 1 1/4-mile Hong Kong Cup (G1) on December 13. Rounding out Moore’s quintet are Dan Excel, who’s overshadowed by his headline-grabbing stablemates but is capable on his day as a three-time Group 1 winner himself; Rewarding Hero, whose placings to Able Friend include a runner-up effort in the May 3 Champions Mile (G1); and Secret Sham.

Aside from the supremo Able Friend and the comebacker Designs on Rome, the other angle to the Jockey Club Mile revolves around the upwardly mobile Contentment and Packing Pins. Each brings a winning skein into his acid test of class, and with the top two looking ahead to December, the up-and-comers could be primed for this bout.

The Ricky Yiu-trained Packing Pins has won five in a row at about seven furlongs, and steps up in both trip and class here. Although untested beyond Class 2 level, the New Zealand-bred has comfortably had their measure, and rates a fascinating type.

Contentment has racked up four straight for John Size, notably the October 1 Celebration Cup over an unlucky Giant Treasure and the October 25 Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy (beating six contestants in Saturday’s Jockey Club Cup [G2]). His close stalk-and-pounce style has served him well, and he’ll get five pounds from Able Friend, Designs on Rome and Dan Excel. Beauty Flame, who’s been conceding Contentment from five to 13 pounds of late, now meets him at levels. Trained by Tony Cruz, Beauty Flame played second fiddle to Able Friend three times early in the year, and he’d do well to replicate that here.

Not to be overlooked is Giant Treasure, who gets an equipment change to cheekpieces and picks up Christophe Soumillon. An honorable competitor in all three legs of Hong Kong’s Four-Year-Old Series, the Richard Gibson pupil placed third in the Classic Mile and Classic Cup before a fifth in the Hong Kong Derby. More recently, Giant Treasure was short of room at the decisive stage when Contentment got the jump on him in the Celebration Cup, but he rallied smartly for second. In their rematch last time, he dropped well back from a poor post and flashed home late (and wide) for a sneaky-good fifth. Drawn much better in post 5, the Juddmonte export could perform much better too.

Top: Able Friend and right: Contentment over Giant Treasure. Photos courtesy of Hong Kong Jockey Club.