By David Morgan
John Size has no misgivings about pitching Eastern Express (113lb) into Sunday’s (6 November) Group 3 Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse from a mark 14lb out of the handicap, with a Group 1 date at the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races in December the trainer’s ulterior aim.
“I’d like to run in an International Race with him, that’s why, even though he’s so far out of the handicap in this race, I’ll run him anyway, because if he can run well I might be able to get a run in an International Race,” Hong Kong’s eight-time champion trainer said.
Eastern Express may well be ‘wrong’ at the weights in the historic 1800m handicap, but the four-year-old has a profile that suggests he will prove to be a better race horse than his current 89 rating indicates.
The Irish-bred Fastnet Rock gelding made rapid strides in a three-month spell last term, winning three races from six starts and placing in the remainder, including a close third in the HKG1 Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) in February. That precipitated a tilt at the four-year-old series showcase, the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m), in which the still maturing bay’s rise plateaued with a laboured ninth-place effort.
“I think he’s made obvious improvement, strength-wise (since then),” Size asserted. “He’s a June foal, which put him nearly six months behind his contemporaries, so with the onset of more maturity he does look stronger and hopefully he can take that to the races.”
Owner Larry Yung’s gelding rounded out last term with a smart second to Joyful Trinity over a mile and opened this campaign two weeks ago, carrying 121lb, with a solid second to the Tony Cruz-trained Anticipation in a course and distance Class 2 contest.
“I thought that run was good,” Size said. “He probably should improve in condition for that: first-up at 1800 metres might have tested his fitness and stamina on that day. I think he should be better prepared for this second run. It’s a big drop in weight (to carry), I think he’ll get a nice run and he should run well.”
Moreira will be aiming to end a winless return aboard Eastern Express, having partnered the three-time winner on three previous occasions for a trio of placed runs.
“He was probably in need of that last run to bring himself to his best,” said Hong Kong’s champion jockey. “In terms of his rating, I think there’s plenty left in him: distance-wise, I think the 1800 metres will suit him perfectly. Last season he ran well in races like the Classic Cup, when he finished just a neck behind the winner, which is obviously a very good horse. If he brings that kind of form again, he’ll be a winning chance.”
Praise for Anticipation
Anticipation (113lb) quickened past Eastern Express last time out to score by two and three quarter-lengths under Neil Callan. Australian ace Craig Williams will fly in to partner the former Irish galloper off a light weight in the Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse, with Callan teaming up this time with the Moore-trained Helene Happy Star at a more comfortable 127lb.
“Anticipation was a very impressive winner for me last time,” Callan said. “He got the right trip, he travelled extremely well, and the plan was to take him out in the middle of the track away from other horses because of his previous antics, trying to bite horses. In that respect, by the time he’d hit the front halfway down the straight, he was racing on his own and he ran straight through the line, he didn't stop.
“Going up in this class he’s going to have to improve a bit but his overseas form was quite strong, so you’d like to think if he could go in that sort of direction, he should be able to hold his own.”
And of the horse that ran second to the former Ballydoyle galloper, Callan said: “Eastern Express looks still to be a work in progress, and off that rating you can see why John (Size) would be willing to put him in a highly-competitive race. But I think if everything falls right, the way Anticipation won last time, if everything goes smoothly, I don't see why the horse can’t improve off his first run, too.”
Callan partnered Helene Happy Star to victory from the front in a wet 2015 edition of the HKG3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup (2400m) and will renew that partnership for only the second time since then.
“Helene Happy Star was a very good winner of the Queen Mother Memorial Cup a couple of seasons back, he’s ran numerous good races since but he just hasn't lit the board up,” Callan said of the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase entrant. “I’d imagine John (Moore) has further targets for him so this would probably be a race to see where he’s at, but it’s a good race for him. He’s very versatile and he can lead, so if it’s a messy race we know he’ll get a true-run race for himself.”
A high-class field of 14 is slated to line-up for Sunday’s feature, the highlight of an 11-race card on the popular Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse Day. The John Moore-trained Helene Paragon will head the weights with 133lb under Zac Purton, while Breeders’ Cup absentee Gun Pit, trained by Caspar Fownes, will shoulder 127lb under Vincent Ho. Macau raider, the Joe Lau-trained The Alfonso (115lb), is set to make a little bit of history as the first non-Hong Kong-trained horse to contest a Group 3 race in Hong Kong.
Teetan back on Horse Of Fortune
Horse Of Fortune (120lb), meanwhile, posted an eye-catching effort over an inadequate 1400m at Sha Tin recently. The six-year-old failed to make the step to G1 at the end of last term when 11th in the APQEII Cup (2000m), but overcame a tough passage last time out, four-wide without cover under Kei Chiong, to finish a good sixth to Joyful Trinity in the G3 Celebration Cup (Handicap) at Sha Tin.
All four of the Tony Millard-trained gelding’s Hong Kong wins have been achieved at Happy Valley, including an 1800m Class 1 score last March, but Sunday’s jockey Karis Teetan believes the South African import’s latest effort should have banished any fears about his mount being a Happy Valley-only horse.
“Last time it was the second-strongest field he’s ever faced in Hong Kong, so to race out wide like he did and then still give a kick in the straight - that was a very good run,” said Teetan. “I think that race was stronger than Sunday’s race, so I think he’ll go well again.
“Before he came here he was running over further and we got him right going to Happy Valley, he raced well there. I don't think there’s any problem with him coming to the bigger track, though: he showed up last time here against some really good horses and still ran a good race.
“Tony hasn’t punished him, he’s had one run here, one run there because those 1650 and 1800 (metres) Class 2 races don't come up too often at Happy Valley, and he’s improved gradually for it. I still feel he has petrol in the tank.”
The line-up also features the Dennis Yip-trained Secret Weapon (125lb), Flame Hero (116lb) from the Peter Ho stable, the Moore-trained Harbour Master (115lb) and Basic Trilogy (113lb), G1 winners Helene Super Star (114lb) and last year’s runner-up Romantic Touch (115 lb) from the Cruz yard, and the Fownes-trained Renaissance Art (115lb).
The Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse was first staged in 1846 at Happy Valley racecourse and is a notable society occasion in Hong Kong. Sa Sa has sponsored the day since 2005.
The first race at Sha Tin on Sunday will be the Class 5 Maria Galland Handicap (1400m) at 12.30pm. The Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse is race eight, due off at 4.05pm, and the exciting finale is the Class 3 Cyber Colors Handicap (1400m) at 5.50pm.
Eastern Express wins the Lok Sin Tong Cup over 1800m at Sha Tin last season.
The Alfonso exercises on the Sha Tin turf this morning with Luis Corrales atop.