By Andrew Hawkins
Trainer Ricky Yiu knows his likeable chestnut Blizzard faces a tough task in Monday’s (30 January) G2 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m) at set weights but believes the in-form gelding is capable of springing a surprise ahead of his primary target, next month’s G1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m).
Blizzard had a luckless start to the season, striking trouble in running and finding defeat on three occasions. However, the five-year-old has turned the corner at his last two starts, producing a dogged effort to win a 1400m Class 1 by a short head on LONGINES Hong Kong International Races day before racing clear for an emphatic victory in the G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m) last time out.
“He’s working good!” Yiu said at Sha Tin trackwork on Thursday morning (26 January). “He’s a horse that is full of energy. It’s definitely tough but he can win on Monday. His last two wins were good, especially his last one, and he has performed over the 1200m before so coming back in trip isn’t an issue. I had Nash (Rawiller) booked but he can’t make the weight so Umberto Rispoli will ride, now we just have to hope for a good draw!”
Yiu got his wish later in the morning as 118-rater Blizzard drew gate two in the eight-horse field, which is headed by last month’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) one-two Aerovelocity (five) and Lucky Bubbles (six). And while the trainer hopes for a good showing on Monday, he acknowledges that the Starcraft gelding will be even better suited in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup on 26 February.
“His grand final will be the 1400m G1 next month,” he said. “That’s his best distance and the race that will suit him best, and it would have been too long between runs to go straight in, so Monday’s race is the best to get there. The owner thought about the mile (the Stewards’ Cup) but I think 1200m into 1400m is right.”
Another horse with a stiff task according to official ratings is Tony Millard-trained Strathmore. The honest five-year-old is yet to win at stakes level but is G1-placed. The gelding, rated 108 locally, gets Chad Schofield back aboard for the first time this season and will jump from gate three.
“He’s been a little bit unlucky, some of the runs that he’s had,” Millard said. “He’s just been one of those horses. Earlier in the season, we had a hiccup with him and we were a little bit on our back foot going into the internationals. But he’s worked well, he’s come out of the Hong Kong Sprint well and fresh and I expect that he’ll run a nice race.
“If he won on Monday we’d look at Dubai after this. I don’t think he needs to get his rating up, he ran third behind the Australian sprinter (Chautauqua) and in front of most of this lot in the Group 1 (Chairman’s Sprint Prize) at the end of last season. It’s not that he’s not good enough, I think he’s definitely in that league, we just need a bit of luck.”
One horse getting in well at the weights is Tony Cruz-trained Peniaphobia, who comes in with a rating of 127. The 2015 Hong Kong Sprint winner carries 121lb, his international G1 victory coming just before the 12-month cut-off to receive the five-pound penalty which is only carried by 128-rated Aerovelocity.
Peniaphobia has been racing well without winning this season and reunites with an old acquaintance in jockey Neil Callan, who last partnered the horse in a 1000m Class 2 in May, 2014. The six-year-old will jump from the outside gate, barrier eight.
“I haven’t sat on his back since his first season,” Callan said. “So it’s been a long time, but the good thing with Tony is, I know that when I get up on them, they are primed and they are ready. And I know that’s the case with him.
“Peniaphobia, he’s running well. It was a good run in the Hong Kong Sprint and he gets five pounds off Aerovelocity, five pounds is a lot in these sorts of races where a length covers the whole field. It’s a small field, we know how he races, hopefully he’ll jump clean, get a nice easy tempo out in front and then we’ll see how he goes.
“It’s just good to get two good rides for Tony in big races.”
The other big ride for Callan is Cruz’s new stable acquisition Giant Treasure in the day’s feature, the G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m), and while the Irishman has not been aboard since the Pan Sutong-owned grey finished 10th first-up to Lucky Bubbles in the G2 Premier Bowl Handicap (1200m), he is looking forward to reuniting with last year’s Stewards’ Cup winner.
“I haven’t been on his back since October,” Callan said about Giant Treasure, who came up with gate five in the 12-horse field. “But it is nice to be back on him. He’s a top-class horse, he’s an international Group 1 winner over a mile, won this race last year, he was second to Maurice so the engine’s there, it’s not like it’s just fallen out. The horse has just got a little bit lost in his form and sometimes it can just spark back up. By all reports he’s going well, he might be in need of the run at his first run for Tony but if he can find his best, he’ll be competitive.”
Giant Treasure is one of four Cruz-trained horses, with LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m) winner Beauty Only drawing gate 11 for Zac Purton, Blazing Speed coming up with barrier 10 for Matthew Chadwick and Beauty Flame in eight for Derek Leung.
Among his chief rivals will be the last three Hong Kong Horse of the Year winners, all trained by John Moore, with returning Werther in gate 1, Able Friend again in the outside gate in 12 and Designs On Rome coming up with barrier nine.
Secret Weapon (seven), Helene Paragon (three), Contentment (four), Joyful Trinity (six) and Sun Jewellery (two) complete the field for the mile feature.
The G1 Stewards’ Cup is the ninth event on the 11-race card and is scheduled to jump at 4:40pm, while the G2 Centenary Sprint Cup will break as the fourth at 2pm. The Chinese New Year Raceday begins with the Class 5 Yue Yee Handicap (1200m) at 12:30pm.
Blizzard coasts to victory in the G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup with Joao Moreira on board.