By David Morgan
Able Friend will head into Monday’s (30 January) HK$10 million G1 Stewards’ Cup at Sha Tin with endorsements ringing clarion-like from the men who know him best, John Moore and Joao Moreira.
The big chestnut’s workout at Sha Tin this morning (24 January) left trainer and jockey in little doubt that the one-time Horse of the Year is in the form to land a second Stewards’ Cup. Able Friend won the mile showpiece in 2015.
“I’m very pleased with how he worked this morning,” Moreira said after Able Friend had galloped 1200m in 1m 21.7s (29.6, 28.9, 23.2) alongside a lead horse.
And the Brazilian’s appraisal was ominous for the four-time G1 winner’s 11 rivals.
“He hasn’t been like that for so long!” he declared. “The way he’s going now, I’m full of confidence that he’s going to be able to perform at his best. I think he’s at his best, like we’ve seen before. His action is extremely good, his motivation and his fitness are right there.”
Able Friend has not won since a searing performance to take out the October 2015 HKG2 Premier Bowl Handicap (1200m). After a 10-month spell on the sidelines with a tendon injury, the Shamardal seven-year-old has returned with two solid efforts this term, running fourth in November’s G2 Jockey Club Sprint (1200m) and two lengths sixth in last month’s G1 Hong Kong Mile.
Moore was delighted with what he witnessed this morning and is expecting to see a performance comparable to the horse’s best on Monday.
“Able Friend went with the lead horse and Moreira was very happy with what the horse did, he said it’s the fittest we’ve had him this time in,” the handler said.
“He’s definitely improved physically, after such a long lay-off, and his weight is now bordering on 1300 pounds - we’ll have to watch that because he’s doing very well in himself.
“I think there’s still further improvement to come but the question is, how fit does he have to be to beat this field? If he brings his A game - all of them, they’re a length or so behind him. Able Friend’s just a different class when he’s right.”
It was a busy morning for Moore’s Stewards’ Cup team with the handler’s four other entries, Helene Paragon, Designs On Rome, Werther and Joyful Trinity all working, too.
“They all worked well,” Moore said, “with the exception, perhaps, of Joyful Trinity but I’d put that down to the hood. That made a big difference in his work this morning, it deafened him a bit and he was lethargic in the final 200 metres - Werther just skipped away from him - but don’t take anything away from Joyful Trinity, he’s well.”
The Stewards’ Cup is the G1 highlight at Sha Tin’s Chinese New Year fixture, which will also feature the G2 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m) and the Class 1 Chinese New Year Cup Handicap (1400m).
Able Friend wins the 2015 Stewards�� Cup and gets a pat from Joao Moreira.