by David Morgan
A Group 1-winning miler, first-up for the season at a distance short of his optimum: the scenario seems all too familiar. A year ago, Able Friend posted the world’s best sprint performance for 2015 when winning the G2 Premier Bowl Handicap (1200m), a race that was supposed to be no more than a freshener ahead of a mile campaign. On Sunday (23 October), Giant Treasure will follow the same path as connections eye December’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile.
Giant Treasure ran to a new career peak in last year’s Hong Kong Mile, firing down the inside fence to split Maurice and Able Friend, champions both. That preceded a career first G1 triumph in the following month’s Stewards’ Cup (1600m) at Sha Tin, but the talented grey’s form dipped in three starts thereafter.
A couple of eye-catching barrier trials under new partner Neil Callan this term suggest that the Richard Gibson-trained Mizzen Mast five-year-old is back on song, though the jockey is not getting carried away with expectations of anything Able Friend-like in Sunday’s Premier Bowl.
“Richard’s view is that running over the shorter distance probably doesn’t take as much out of the horse but will sharpen him up for the mile, which is the target in December,” Callan said. “His trials have been there for everyone to see, he’s trialled pretty strongly both times and he’s in great condition.”
In the latest of those barrier trials, Giant Treasure and Callan closed off sweetly from mid-pack to finish three quarters of a length behind Hong Kong’s young gun sprint star Lucky Bubbles, one of 11 rivals in Sunday’s hot contest.
“It was Richard’s idea to switch Giant Treasure to the sprint race this weekend rather than go into the mile and have a tough race, giving weight away. Richard knew that he’d be carrying plenty of weight in a tough race with Beauty Only, Contentment, Joyful Trinity and the like. That mile race could be tactical and he could be a little bit fresh first-up, whereas the sprint will just get him into his full stride from the start - at least that way he can finish off his race.
“He didn’t want him to have a hard race with a view to going into the Jockey Club Mile in November and hopefully he’ll come out of it in good heart, with the Hong Kong Mile the ultimate target.
“He feels great, he’s in tip-top shape,” Callan added. “He proved what he’s capable of last year when he split Maurice and Able Friend and I’m just happy to have got on him.”
Giant Treasure (129lb) faces crack speedsters in last year’s G1 Hong Kong Sprint victor Peniaphobia (133lb), triple G1 winner Aerovelocity (131lb), G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize runner-up Lucky Bubbles (131lb), Amazing Kids (130lb), Not Listenin’tome (130lb), Domineer (123lb), Dundonnell (119lb), Thewizardofoz (116lb), Lucky Year (115lb), Dashing Fellow (113lb) and Blizzard (113lb).
Callan partnered the John Moore-trained Not Listenin’tome last start, a torrid run in the G3 National Day Cup (1000m) won by Amazing Kids, in which the gelding was impeded by Peniaphobia. Sam Clipperton takes the ride this time.
“He came through his last run well, obviously he had a bit of a checkered run which didn’t help his chances,” Clipperton said. “Since then, I’ve worked him twice, two gallops, and he’s really working well, he's striding out well and he’s come on significantly for the first-up run.
“It’s obviously a very deep race with the likes of Aerovelocity, Lucky Bubbles and Peniaphobia lining up but I know my bloke has the ability and if it works out, he’ll be right there when the whips are cracking. He’s a very good horse on his day, we saw that in Australia and we've seen it here.
“It’s great to be getting rides on the big days, these are the races that all riders want to win and I am lucky enough to have a really good chance in the sprint on Not Listenin’tome and a horse that will come along with racing in Helene Happy Star in the Sha Tin Trophy.”
Callan’s partnership with Giant Treasure is in its early days but in Sunday’s other feature, the Oriental Watch 55th Anniversary Sha Tin Trophy Handicap (1600m), the Irishman will continue his longstanding association with one of Hong Kong’s most popular G1 stalwarts, Blazing Speed, on whom he has won the G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m), twice, the G1 QEII Cup (2000m) and the G2 LONGINES Jockey Club Cup (2000m).
Alvin Ng was up top for Blazing Speed’s recent barrier trial but Callan has been keeping a close eye on his old comrade, who is now seven years of age, rising eight.
“I see him in the morning a lot and he looks a million dollars, he still looks as good as ever, although he’s probably carrying a little bit more weight, as you do when you get older,” he said.
“Everyone saw how sharp he was in the trial recently, he jumped and he travelled up there and hit the line well,” Callan continued. “Running in the mile first-up is just to knock the cobwebs off him and sharpen him up. The Jockey Club Cup next month, I suppose, would be the target and then Tony will look at whether he goes for the Cup or the Vase in December. I certainly think he’s more than capable of hitting the top level again this year.”
Blazing Speed’s (133lb) 11 rivals in an outstanding renewal of the Oriental Watch 55th Anniversary Sha Tin Trophy Handicap are: Beauty Only (133lb), last year’s winner and subsequent G1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup victor Contentment (133lb), former Horse of the Year Designs On Rome (133lb), Helene Paragon (131lb), Beauty Flame (129lb), Packing Pins (128lb), Helene Happy Star (126lb), champion miler Sun Jewellery (124lb), Joyful Trinity (122lb), Rapper Dragon (122lb) and Flame Hero (114lb).
Oriental Watch 55th Anniversary Sha Tin Trophy Day kicks off at 1pm with the Class 5 Parmigiani Excellent Handicap (1200m) and concludes at 5.50pm with race 10, the Class 2 Bulgari Excellent Handicap (1800m). The Premier Bowl is race seven, due off at 4.10pm and the Oriental Watch 55th Anniversary Sha Tin Trophy is race nine (5.15pm).
Giant Treasure lands his first G1 win in last season��s Stewards�� Cup.