Friend unable to douse Flame in Jockey Club Mile
Hong Kong spectators glimpsed a rarity on Saturday, something that had happened only once before, in what seems a lifetime ago: the mighty Able Friend was upset over his pet distance of a metric mile at Sha Tin. Expected to sail through the Jockey Club Mile (G2), the heavy favorite closed belatedly for third, as his old foe Beauty Flame turned the tables.
While this wasn’t the way you’d draw up his prep for the December 13 Hong Kong Mile (G1), neither should we overreact and respond too negatively to the Horse of the Year’s defeat. Able Friend was exiting a perhaps too scintillating comeback in the Premier Bowl (G2), where he overwhelmed top sprinters with a tremendous closing rush. The respective second and third, Gold-Fun and Peniaphobia, came back to finish one-two in Saturday’s Jockey Club Sprint (G2). That may have left Able Friend a little flat, and trainer John Moore was always going to make sure that he was cranked for the big day still upcoming.
Of course, even in the circumstances, Able Friend was still entitled to win his prep. The other factor conspiring against him was the muddling tempo, especially on a “good” course that was tending to favor horses racing closer to the pace. Not quick to get his massive frame into stride out of the gate, Able Friend was anchored near the rear through fractions of :24.38, :47.54 and 1:11.29, set by longshot stablemate Secret Sham.
In the circumstances, Beauty Flame was sitting the perfect trip in second, under a crafty Gerald Mosse. The Tony Cruz trainee was on the premises to overtake the sure-to-falter pacesetter in the stretch, and accordingly made the most of it in a final time of 1:33.74. According to South China Morning Post, Mosse poignantly dedicated the win to his grand partner Red Cadeaux, who was just euthanized due to complications from injury sustained in the Melbourne Cup (G1).
Up-and-comer Contentment, who had been getting lumps of weight from Beauty Flame in their past two outings, now felt what it was like to meet him at a level 123 pounds. Also well placed early, Contentment could not peg back Beauty Flame and crossed the wire 1 1/4 lengths back in second.
Able Friend made rather labored headway along the inside for third, about a neck off Contentment. He fared best of the deep closers (and 128-pound co-highweights), while clocking :21.87 for his final 400 meters (about a quarter-mile).
As good as that looks, it wasn’t even the fastest final split. That honor goes to Designs on Rome, Hong Kong’s former Horse of the Year and another of Moore’s posse, who rattled out wide in :21.80 and got up for sixth. Considering that this was his first run back since surgery to remove bone chips, over an inadequate trip, as a 128-pound co-highweight, with a view toward a title defense in the Hong Kong Cup (G1), it was a very pleasing effort. And lest it be lost amid the focus on Able Friend, remember that Designs on Rome is bang on course for December 13.
So should Able Friend. At this time last year, Able Friend was a close fourth in his reappearance, moved forward to take the Jockey Club Mile (carrying 123 pounds), and improved again to trounce the Hong Kong Mile. This fall’s pattern is different, with a superb win first up, followed by a reverse, but another leap forward is likely in the cards.
And the fact that the winner was a horse previously dusted by Able Friend only reinforces that interpretation. Beauty Flame had finished second to him in the Stewards’ Cup (G1), Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (G1) and Chairman’s Trophy. With Able Friend failing to run up to his best, Beauty Flame ran up to his – and that ironically shows just how good Able Friend is at his peak.
Quotes courtesy of the Hong Kong Jockey Club:
Jockey Gerald Mosse on Beauty Flame: “I was expecting that, if I was not going to make the running, the John Moore horse (Secret Sham) would, so I didn’t rush my horse and I got a perfect race. I just sat behind him and waited for the straight, like Tony told me to do, and when I pressed the button he answered perfectly.
“He was just waiting for Able Friend but he didn’t see him so he didn’t push himself!”
Trainer Tony Cruz on Beauty Flame: “We predicted how this race would be run. I believed one of John’s horses would set the pace for Able Friend, which would suit us perfectly and it came out exactly as we anticipated.
“I’m a little bit more than hopeful now (about the Hong Kong Mile). To me the horse will be spot on for international day on 13 December. He’ll be better than today. All of my horses will be 100 percent on the big day, that’s for sure.”
Trainer John Moore on Able Friend: “(Jockey Joao) Moreira said when he got off that the track suited horses that were on the speed – that those on the speed were going to do better today. He still broke 22 seconds coming home (:21.87). He’s well enough. People might put it down to a flat run but I’d put it down to circumstances – the pattern of the race and so forth. He’ll be absolutely right for the Mile in December.”
Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Jockey Club.