Esoterique eyes Hong Kong Mile, where Able Friend awaits
Star French mare Esoterique, who never landed a blow when seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Keeneland, will be off on her travels again – this time to the Far East for the December 13 Hong Kong Mile (G1).
But even better, the Andre Fabre trainee will continue her racing career as a six-year-old in 2016.
"She will run in Hong Kong next month and, all being well, she will stay in training next year. She has been a fantastic mare for us," owner/breeder Baron Edouard de Rothschild told Scott Burton of Racing Post.
Few could have blamed the baron if he wanted to retire Esoterique to the broodmare band already, considering her resume. She’s a three-time Group 1 winner, including a score over males in the Prix Jacques le Marois (G1) at Deauville this summer. And she’s the best offspring of the prolific Dancing Brave mare Dievotchka, who has produced five other stakes winners, notably a trio of Group 2 victors in Russian Hope, Russian Cross, and Archange d’Or.
On the other hand, Esoterique has been in career-best form at five, until her blip on a chewed-up Keeneland course. (Indeed, John Gosden, trainer of beaten Turf [G1] favorite Golden Horn, called it a “sandpit.”) Perhaps connections believe that she’ll keep piling up the laurels in 2016.
In the meantime, the Hong Kong Mile beckons, and Esoterique will try to dethrone defending champion Able Friend. Although she beat him in the June 16 Queen Anne (G1) down the straight at Royal Ascot, when they finished second and sixth, respectively, the Hong Kong supremo was a pale shadow of himself.
Around his home base of Sha Tin, Able Friend is a monster, as he proved once again in his comeback victory in the October 25 Premier Bowl. Resuming over a 1200-meter (about six-furlong) trip that’s short for him, and lugging top weight of 133 pounds, the John Moore charge inhaled a strong cast of sprinters in 1:08.35. Racing Post was suitably impressed, assigning his performance a lofty 128 rating. Only one turf race has yielded a higher Racing Post rating this year, Golden Horn’s 132 for the Eclipse (G1).
Able Friend is set to warm up in the November 21 Jockey Club Mile (G2), the local prep which he captured en route to Hong Kong Mile glory in 2014.
In other Hong Kong International Races news on Monday:
Australian globetrotter Criterion is on course for another tilt at the Hong Kong Cup (G1). The high-class son of Sebring was third in the about 1 1/4-mile contest last year, in his debut for co-trainers David Hayes and Tom Dabernig. In light of his less than smooth build-up, he did well to lose by all of a length to local celebrities Designs on Rome and Military Attack.
Criterion returned to Sha Tin for the April 26 QE II Cup (G1) over the same distance, only to finish third again. But note that came on a quick 15-day turnaround following his lucrative success in the April 11 Queen Elizabeth (G1) at Randwick. During the English summer, Criterion was a creditable fifth in Royal Ascot’s Prince of Wales’s (G1) and sixth behind shock winner Arabian Queen and Golden Horn in the Juddmonte International (G1) at York.
Back in Australia, Criterion annexed the October 10 Caulfield (G1) and turned in two strong placings in the Spring Carnival’s landmark events, the Cox Plate (G1) and Melbourne Cup (G1). When best of the rest behind the course record-setting Winx in the Cox Plate, he defeated a good group led by Secretariat (G1) romper Highland Reel. Although the two-mile Melbourne Cup would have stretched his stamina, especially with his impost of 127 pounds, he was a gallant, if troubled, third.
"We'll potter around with him and give him an exhibition gallop at (Moonee) Valley,” Hayes told AAP’s Craig Brennan. "I think he'll work well and we'll be sending him (to Hong Kong), just as we did last year.
"He has nice breaks between runs and the Melbourne Cup to Hong Kong is six weeks and he thrives on that.
"If he ran well in Hong Kong, (owner) Sir Owen Glenn is keen for him to go to Japan (for the December 27 Arima Kinen [G1] at Nakayama), and he did beat the Japanese horses quite easily in the Melbourne Cup."
In contrast, Chautauqua’s co-trainer Wayne Hawkes sounded somewhat less enthused about a potential excursion for the Hong Kong Sprint (G1). Racingandsports.com.au picked up his comments from an interview with a Melbourne radio station.
“We only want to go if we think we're a deadset good thing," Hawkes said.
"At the moment we're still going ahead, but we only need one small thing to pull the plug.
"There's a stack of prize money here in Australia as well."
To be fair, Hawkes did say that there was a 70 percent chance that Chautauqua would ship to Hong Kong. Yet judging by his discussion of the downside to the venture – ranging from the unknowns of putting him on a plane to skipping such major races at home as the Lightning (G1) and Newmarket H. (G1) – he’s not exactly champing at the bit.
Second to Brazen Beau in the Newmarket back in March, Chautauqua went on to garner such top sprints as the T.J. Smith (G1) and the Manikato (G1). He was just narrowly denied in the November 7 Darley Classic (G1) for the second straight year.