By Andrew Hawkins
Almost a year after Strathmore proved his mettle against some of the top sprinters around, trainer Tony Millard is hoping his five-year-old can bounce back to form in the Class 2 Nam Long Shan Handicap (1200m) at Sha Tin’s holiday race meeting on Easter Monday (17 April).
Last May, Strathmore produced a career-best performance when third behind Chautauqua and Lucky Bubbles in the G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) at triple-figure odds, finishing ahead of the majority of Hong Kong’s premier sprinters. However, in five runs this season, the Fastnet Rock gelding has proved out of sorts, not finishing closer than fifth over both 1200m and 1400m.
“He’s just lost his form a little bit, just like Chautauqua did after that Group 1 last year,” Millard said at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (12 April). “We had a little bit of a setback with him and it’s been a case of just trying to get him doing well again. He seems to be well at the moment.
“Horses can be funny, too, in that some of them come right at certain times of year and we’re just hoping that’s the case with him. He’s done everything well coming into this, I am very happy with where he is at.”
Millard is hoping to use Monday’s contest as a gauge as he ponders whether to set Strathmore for another test against the big guns in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize on 7 May.
“He has to carry a big weight on Monday and there’s one young, up-and-coming horse in the race who has been impressive, but I’m happy with Strathmore,” the South African handler said. “I think that he’s a class horse and we’d just like to see him come through now. I just wanted him to have a race where he can build his confidence so we decided to give him this run, just in a division race. If he runs well, we’ll certainly be going back to the Chairman’s Sprint Prize.”
That young up-and-comer is John Moore-trained Magic Legend, unbeaten after three starts in Hong Kong.
“He still looks to have untapped ability,” rider Douglas Whyte said. “We will still see the best of him later on, but he has already progressed very well so far. Last start, he had the crossed noseband and that made him that much easier for me to control, he got down to the rail and he was very tractable. That will help him as he takes on this quality of opposition, because now he’s at a level where he can’t be making the mistakes he was before.”
Also among the 11-strong field is Chris So-trained Racing Supernova, another horse who has gone off the boil slightly after showing good early-season form. The son of Duporth won the Class 1 Panasonic Cup at his first attempt at 1400m in November, but has only placed once in four runs since. He now returns to 1200m for the first time since June last year.
“He’s pretty good at the moment,” So said. “His last trial was quite impressive, he looked good. His rating’s going up though, he’s been finding things very competitive at the 1400m; he’s been jumping away slowly, but last time he jumped a lot better so I’ve put him in the 1200 to see how he does. It’s a worry back in trip that he might jump slowly again but we have to take a chance. In his last run, Joao Moreira said he jumped very well but he found himself on the pace and he just stayed on one-paced.”
So believes that some of Racing Supernova’s recent runs are best forgotten or overlooked, particularly a last-start sixth to Invincible Dragon in the Class 1 Hong Kong Macau Trophy (1400m).
“I think he’s had no luck, with the draws and how the races have panned out,” he said. “He was on pace with the Macau horses last time and he came back a bit soft. He looks like he needs things to go his way – he has a turn-of-foot to dash, but he needs it to open up for him. That’s how I think he likes it, track, and then when it opens, dash. He needs that luck to fall right for him. A few times, he’s been stuck inside with nowhere to go, so that’s why I think he can still improve on what he’s shown so far.”
The Class 2 Nam Long Shan Handicap (1200m) is the eighth of 10 races on the holiday card and will jump at 4:35pm, with the opener, the Cheung Lin Shan Plate (1000m) for the griffins, set to get underway at 1pm.
Strathmore (No. 13) finishes third behind Chautauqua and Lucky Bubbles (No. 7) in the G1 Chairman��s Sprint Prize last May.