“Full of beans,” “kicking his brands off,” and other quotables from Hong Kong notes
Defending Hong Kong Vase (G1) champion Highland Reel, last seen landing the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Santa Anita, appears to be in grand shape despite racking up the frequent flyer miles.
The Aidan O’Brien star turned in a “gentle canter” on the dirt track. Described as “a bit fresh walking past the trainers' stand at the end of the home straight,” Highland Reel then “relaxed at the canter under regular work rider Davy Bergin.”
“He's travelled well, and everything is good,” traveling head lad Pat Keating said. “We'll just keep him ticking over and freshen him up."
Also reportedly holding her form after a California sojourn is Japan’s Nuovo Record, who rebounded from a poor showing in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) to win a thriller in Del Mar’s Red Carpet (G3). While she’ll have her work cut out for her against Highland Reel in the Vase, at least she’s primed from a physical standpoint.
Groom Hideyuki Obara said: “She had light work this morning in the quarantine's trotting ring. She is in good condition and has settled in very nicely. She has maintained her condition well despite all the travel. We will canter her over the turf on Wednesday and then gallop her on Thursday.”
Hong Kong Sprint (G1) hopeful Pure Sensation, the lone American runner to fly the flag Sunday, just stretched his legs on the dirt for Christophe Clement. Another Breeders’ Cup participant to make the journey, Pure Sensation comes off a third in the Turf Sprint (G1).
Defending Hong Kong Cup (G1) champion A Shin Hikari pleased exercised rider Tomoyasu Sakaguchi in his tour of Sha Tin’s dirt track: “He was full of beans. I am happy with his good condition.”
Trainer Tony Cruz is expecting a strong performance from locally based champion Blazing Speed, third in last year’s Hong Kong Cup: “He's older but he's just as fit as last year and I think he'll put up a big show again. Maurice is the main danger and I'll be happy if he can get in the first three – he'll be eight in January.”
Japan’s Horse of the Year Maurice, last year’s Hong Kong Mile (G1) hero who’s trying the about 10-furlong Cup this time, is in fine fettle on his third visit to Sha Tin. He’s one of three representing trainer Noriyuki Hori, along with Neorealism in the Mile and Satono Crown in the Hong Kong Vase.
“Satono Crown and Maurice have settled in particularly well, while Neorealism, being on his first trip abroad, is still a bit tense,” groom Tomohiro Takahashi commented.
Compatriot and Cup hopeful Lovely Day, only fourth as the favorite here in the QE II Cup (G1) in the spring, is apparently more at home in his second Hong Kong excursion.
“He worked nicely today,” work rider Joji Yamamoto said of his easy move on the turf course. “Last time when he came here in April he did not adjust to the new surroundings, however this time he is in a good mood and is familiar with the Hong Kong environment. He is relaxed and is in good form.”
Mile contender Logotype, on the other hand, seemed to feel the effects of his ship from Japan.
Trainer Tsuyoshi Tanaka's traveling head lad, Satoru Sasaki, said: "Since he had a long journey from home to Hong Kong he might be a bit tired, however he ate up all his feed today."
Able Friend, the star of the 2014 Mile and third to Maurice a year ago, will be making only his second start back from a tendon injury in Sunday’s renewal of the Mile.
Trainer John Moore spoke of the task at hand: “If the amount of work we've been able to give Able Friend proves to be sufficient, then he'll run very well. I couldn't say he was 100 percent and, in an ideal world, you'd like to have been able to give him one more run but he does look a treat and he's not overweight. He's well in himself and will go into the race kicking his brands off. The last fifty meters might be a query but his trial was good and I wouldn't be surprised if he's in front at the furlong (100 meters) and doing his best to kick on. I hope he draws a good gate and gets a 'cushy' run, smothered up behind them. He'll have his final fast work on Thursday."
Moore’s second Mile hope, Helene Paragon, is no mere second-stringer: “Helene Paragon, well he couldn't be any fitter and he's the knockout horse. He was blocked in the straight when he was building momentum last time and I feel that cost him the race (when seventh in the Jockey Club Mile [G2]). We've seen something of his true form at his past two runs and if he could improve a length or two off those runs, then I think he'll be right in it and I think he can make that sort of improvement.”
Takedown, one of two Australian raiders in the Hong Kong Sprint along with veteran Rebel Dane, has taken the trek in stride – a positive sign for a relatively young horse on his first taste of international travel.
“We really couldn't be happier and we've got a horse who is on the up,” said David Moore, son and assistant to Gary Moore (John’s brother). “It's unbelievable, he's only four but he's like a proper veteran and has traveled to Hong Kong really well. Some horses lose a lot of weight in traveling but not him, and it helps that he loves eating! We just hope he gets a good gate later in the week."
At the opposite end of the age spectrum, eight-year-old Aerovelocity may be fighting Father Time as he seeks to regain his Sprint crown from 2014.
Trainer Paul O'Sullivan said: “I think his preparation has gone very well. He should be peaking for this run, but he's not peaking as a six-year-old this time, he's peaking as an eight-year-old and that's always tough. If he was going in with his current condition as a six-year-old, he'd be winning. That said, I'm really happy with how he's going, he's taken a bit of time but now he's there, he won't want for fitness on Sunday, he'll be right at his top. I'm keeping him to his usual preparation; gallop this morning, gallop Thursday morning, both on dirt, but he's right where he needs to be."
Sprint rival Lucky Bubbles worked about a half-mile on the turf course in :51.7 – a leisurely opening split of :29.0 before zipping home in :22.7 beneath Brett Prebble.
“He's OK, he's ready now,” trainer Francis Lui said. “This morning was his major gallop, I'm happy with that. He might just have something small on Thursday but he's where I want him to be."
Defending Sprint champion Peniaphobia deserves a mulligan for tiring to seventh in his prep in the Jockey Club Sprint (G2), Cruz observed: "He was giving five pounds away to the whole field in the Jockey Club Sprint last time and that's too much against those horses. At set weights you'll see a better performance. Last year we drew 14 but he showed his early speed and Joao (Moreira) rode a perfect race, he stole it."
Photos of Highland Reel, A Shin Hikari, and Able Friend all courtesy Hong Kong Jockey Club