by David Morgan
Rapper Dragon’s reputation boomed last spring with a hat-trick of wins that had BMW Hong Kong Derby written large, but while that March showcase is still on the agenda, the four-year-old heads into a first-up run in Sunday’s (23 October) G2 Oriental Watch 55th Anniversary Sha Tin Trophy Handicap (1600m) with the biggest race in town poking into view.
Trainer John Moore has selected the HK$25 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m) on 11 December as the exciting four-year-old’s first major international test, a brave and rare move. While the crack three-year-old fillies Snow Fairy and Alexander Goldrun both arrived from Europe to win the Cup at the end of their ‘classic’ campaigns, not often does a locally-based horse, in the first half of its Hong Kong ‘classic’ season, step into the December fray alongside the Group 1 big hitters.
“It’s been a change of plan for Rapper Dragon, going to the Hong Kong Cup,” Moore said. “We weren’t going to go that way but with Werther and now Victory Magic falling by the wayside, plans have changed. The owner has no objection to taking on the big boys in the Cup.”
No Hong Kong horse has ever won the Cup prior to setting out on the road to the Hong Kong Derby, a race exclusive to four-year-olds. But then, that path is one that few have trodden. Rapper Dragon does have the benefit of last season’s seven-race Hong Kong campaign under his belt, and it is not as if the son of Street Boss is wet behind the ears. Raced in Australia as Street Rapper, the gelding’s fifth and final juvenile start saw him place second in the G1 Champagne Stakes (1600m) at Randwick.
Before Rapper Dragon has his ticket to the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races stamped, Moore’s charge must navigate Hong Kong’s tough series of step-up Group races, starting with Sunday’s mile feature, in which he will carry 122lb.
“He’s a very clean-winded horse and he’s very sound, too, so don't discount him first-up for the season, he’ll be right there,” Moore said. “He’s going to run a very big race with Zac Purton. The aim, as with all of mine, is to peak in December, but he’s the sort of horse that comes to hand really quickly.”
Moore has five of the 12 engaged in the HK$4 million Oriental Watch 55th Anniversary Sha Tin Trophy and all have December’s G1 showcase races as their targets. Another pair of up-and-comers - albeit a season further on in their progression than Rapper Dragon - Joyful Trinity and Helene Paragon appear to be the stable’s likely representatives in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile, with plans for Moore’s 2014 winner, Able Friend, still in flux.
Joyful Trinity is seeking to back-up after sweeping the G3 Celebration Cup Handicap (1400m) off a low weight last start. Helene Paragon, with 131lb on his back that day, was only 10th, evidently in need of that first-up run. The talented four-year-old will shoulder the same weight at the weekend under Chad Schofield.
“Joyful Trinity is well-weighted on 122 pounds against the more established horses. He’s making his way up through the ratings very nicely and he’s a very fit horse. That’s why Joao’s (Moreira) on board again on Sunday,” Moore said.
“Helene Paragon was well underdone last start and will definitely improve again for having this race under his belt, and he will peak on the day for the Hong Kong Mile.”
Designs On Rome (133lb) won a stirring edition of the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup in 2014 and the top-class six-year-old appears to be in good heart for his first run of this campaign.
“Designs On Rome has trialled really well and is doing everything right,” Moore said. “His joints are holding up nicely after that surgery he had in May of last year and I think you’re going to see him run very well in this race on the weekend. He’s done it all before and he’s in a good place.
“Helene Happy Star (126lb) will have Sam (Clipperton) up on board. The horse has done everything right, his trial was good and he’ll be peaking for the 2400-metre Vase on December 11th.”
The top-class line-up will also feature equal top-weights Beauty Only (133lb), last year’s winner Contentment and Blazing Speed, as well as Champion Miler Sun Jewellery (124lb), Beauty Flame (129lb), Packing Pins (128lb) and Flame Hero (114lb).
The Oriental Watch 55th Anniversary race day also features the G2 Premier Bowl Handicap (1200m), in which star gallopers Peniaphobia (133lb), Aerovelocity (131lb), Lucky Bubbles (131lb), Amazing Kids (130lb), Not Listenin’tome (130lb) and Giant Treasure (129lb) are among an exciting 12-strong line-up.
Rapper Dragon coasts to victory in the HKG3 Lion Rock Trophy last season.