By Andrew Hawkins
Trainer John Moore is already excited by what the New Year may hold after a plethora of his leading lights, headlined by Able Friend, appeared at an informative barrier trial set at Sha Tin on Tuesday (3 January) morning.
In particular, Moore was out to establish his hand for the three-race Four-Year-Old Classic Series, which kicks off with the Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) on 22 January. The handler sent out six classic prospects at the 12-trial session, but it was Able Friend that stole the spotlight as the seven-year-old stepped out to win the first heat of the morning.
Able Friend has not raced since finishing sixth in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m) behind Beauty Only last month at just his second run back from a long injury-enforced break. The son of Shamardal gave both Moore and jockey Joao Moreira positive indications heading towards the G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) on 30 January with a half-length to spare over Ricky Yiu’s in-form galloper Jolly Banner in the straight 1000m heat.
“Joao came back with … a smile from ear to ear,” Moore said. “That’s what we wanted to see. He pulled up great, definitely improving. He’s been off the scene a long time, there’s a lot of muscle tone we’ve got to work on but the trial was good and he’ll still be a force to reckon with in the Stewards’ Cup. But there’s much better to come, too.”
Before the Stewards’ Cup, Moore’s immediate focus is the Hong Kong Classic Mile, with the trainer sending out the bulk of his potential runners at Sha Tin on Tuesday morning.
Behind Able Friend, Australian imports Let Us Win (fourth) and Eagle Way (sixth) had quiet trials. G1 Queensland Derby winner Eagle Way, who impressed when taking the final race on LONGINES Hong Kong International Races day at his first Hong Kong start, is on target for the Classic Mile, but Let Us Win, who raced as Hattori Hanzo in Australia, is still borderline depending on his next run.
“I was happy with both of them,” Moore said. “We saw what Eagle Way can do first-up so it’s just about keeping him ticking over. Let Us Win is a bit tricky, because I am struggling to find a Class 2 race for him. I entered him for this weekend but we also have two runners there already, Rodrico and Beauty Generation, and I need to run them both, particularly Rodrico. So Let Us Win is a reserve. But he’s a decent horse, he won the Phar Lap and he’d be a great addition to the Classic Mile. At this stage, we might be heading to the next Class 2 over 1400m or further, I think there’s one over 1400m on Saturday week (14 January).”
The second trial of the morning saw Moore’s rising star Rapper Dragon step out under Moreira with a comfortable third, just a head behind unraced Kiwi import Big Flash.
“He trialled well and Joao was very happy with that,” he said. “With the setbacks, which were just nuisance stuff, he’s doing well. As I’ve always said to the press, he’s one of the cleanest-winded horses I’ve come across so I’m expecting him to be close in the Classic Mile. It’s going to be a gun race, but I think he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in that race, for sure.”
One prominent import who will not be seen in the first leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series is G1 Grand Prix de Paris (2400m) winner Helene Charisma.
The son of Air Chief Marshal, formerly Mont Ormel, made ground from last to finish 10th in his heat over 1600m, with Moore saying the bay was still finding his feet in his new home.
“Helene Charisma, no, not the Classic Mile,” the handler said, contrasting the French import with his 2009 Hong Kong Derby winner Collection, who was a late arrival on the classic scene. “I’ll start him by entering him in a lot lower race than that, although his rating makes it difficult so it just depends if there is something in the programme. His trial this morning, all indications were that he still has a way to go with acclimatisation. He’s quite a way off, he’s not the Collection type who is going to run you the good trial straight out. He needs time to fit into the environment.”
Moore’s four-year-olds were capped by rejuvenated galloper People’s Knight and quirky English import Experto Crede, and while he admits it will be tough to qualify the latter for any of the classic races off a rating of 71, he believes that the former may just have done enough to earn a spot in the contest.
“Good trial from People’s Knight, very good,” Moore said. “Why not run him in the Classic Mile? He’ll run at Happy Valley next Wednesday (11 January) and then he should be cherry ripe for the Classic Mile.
The trainer has won the Hong Kong Classic Mile on three occasions, most recently when he ran 1-2 with Able Friend and Designs On Rome in 2014, and he believes he has the team to match that feat again in 2017.
“All in all, I’m very happy with the smart horses I have going into the Classic Mile,” Moore said. “Any trainer would be! We’ve got quite the hand. To have as many runners as we’re going to have in the race is really something, it means we’ve been buying the right types and nurturing the types to get to that sort of race so that’s really good.”
Able Friend (in black) finishes ahead of the rest in the first of 12 barrier trials this morning at Sha Tin.
Rapper Dragon (3rd right) finishes his trial a comfortable third.