Joao Moreira is usually associated with Able Friend but on Sunday he will ride Peniaphobia against Hong Kong’s current Horse of the Year in the HKG2 Premier Bowl (Handicap), a 1200m contest that has attracted not only one of the planet’s best milers but also the cream of the local sprinting crop.
Peniaphobia went close to making history in last year’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) when a pressing second to Aerovelocity at the tender age of three - no horse of that age has ever claimed Hong Kong’s premier sprint prize. That effort and those subsequent, including a HKG1 Centenary Sprint Cup (1000m) success and a fine second in Dubai’s G1 Al Quoz Sprint (1000m), flagged the gelding as a possible future standout.
Moreira climbed aboard for the first time on 1 October and partnered the ring-rusty Peniaphobia to seventh-place behind the easy winner Not Listenin’tome in the HKG3 National Day Cup (Handicap). That was down Sha Tin’s sharp 1000m straight. Not Listenin’tome (118lb), like Aerovelocity (124lb), will once again stand in opposition on Sunday.
“Peniaphobia ran well,” said the Brazilian. “He wasn’t far behind the second horse and I don't think he was 100 per cent fit, so he just needs to improve a length or two to be right there with the winner. I think with a run under his belt he will be going faster, he’ll be fitter and I think he’ll run a really good race,” said the Brazilian.
“I would love to ride Able Friend but when John (Moore) decided to run him in this race I was already booked to ride Peniaphobia so I couldn’t change. I got on the horse that I’m aiming to ride in the Hong Kong Sprint in December - he proved last year that he’s got the ability. Now he’s a year older I’m very excited about Peniaphobia.”
Able Friend will shoulder top-weight of 133lb - a concession of 11lb to Peniaphobia (122lb) - and is racing over a distance short of his best but Moreira has the utmost respect for the strapping Shamardal gelding, whom he hopes to team up with again soon.
“Able Friend is a very, very good horse and I have a great association with him,” he said. “To me he feels a little unfit but you can never underestimate this horse, he’s a really good horse and he may just put it all together and beat them all. He’s a horse that I’m really looking forward to getting back on after this race.”
Former two-time Champion Sprinter Lucky Nine (122lb) is also in the field of 14, as is fellow G1 winner Amber Sky (118lb), while Gold-Fun (127lb) will seek a second course and distance win at the third attempt, having landed the HKG1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize last term. The Richard Gibson-trained six-year-old underwent a minor medical procedure since his last start.
“I haven’t ridden Gold-Fun in his work but I was on him for his trials and he trialled well,” said jockey Douglas Whyte. “It’s his first-up run and he’s come back from surgery but he feels good.”
Dundonnell (120lb), Secret Sham (117lb), Bundle Of Joy (116lb), Charles The Great (116lb), Smart Volatility (114lb), Golden Harvest (113lb) and Tour De Force (113lb) complete the line-up.
Sunday’s 10-race card also features a top-class edition of the HKG2 Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy (Handicap) over 1600m.