By Andrew Hawkins
Eagle Way has already given John Moore one Group 1 victory - as an owner - but the trainer has “high hopes” that the four-year-old can secure a first Hong Kong-side G1 win in the HK$10m Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (28 May).
A late maturer in Australia, Eagle Way progressed to win the G1 Queensland Derby (2400m) at Eagle Farm last June when prepared by Bryan Guy. It was the last of 13 starts down under for the More Than Ready gelding, who had raced in Moore’s ownership since he was bought as a yearling from the 2014 Inglis Easter Yearling Sale.
“I’ve always wanted to win a Group 1 in Australia and so to do it as an owner was something different,” Moore said at Sha Tin trackwork on Thursday morning (25 May). “It’s still a target of mine to win an Australian Group 1 as a trainer and maybe this horse might be a candidate next year – he could be a horse for the Melbourne spring, maybe races like the Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup. This year, however, he will remain in Hong Kong.”
Eagle Way impressed with a first-up win over a mile in December – “Like Werther,” Moore says – but he found the three legs of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series too sharp, finishing on the heels of the place-getters in the Hong Kong Classic Mile, the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) and the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m).
However, the step up to a mile and a half last start proved the catalyst for another victory as the Siu Pak Kwan-owned chestnut took out the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap over Sunday’s course and distance, fending off stablemate Helene Charisma, who reopposes on Sunday.
“His programme leading into this has been perfect, he’s a horse that needs a mile and a half to two miles,” the handler said. “He always looked in need of extra ground throughout the four-year-old races, and then he produced a very good run in the lead-up to the Queen Mother when he had to make a long run. His Queen Mother win was terrific. Everything he has shown me suggests this race is ideal.”
Eagle Way took to the Sha Tin turf under raceday partner Joao Moreira for his final piece of work on Thursday morning, a 1200m gallop in company with stablemate Green Card, who contests Sunday’s Class 3 Mr Medici Handicap (1400m). The pair completed their hit-out in 1m 20.4s (27.8, 29.2, 23.4).
“I’m very happy with how he is this morning, I’ve been happy the whole way through,” Moore said. “Joao didn’t ask him for too much, but he reported that the horse feels better than he did going into the Queen Mother. He’s peaking for this run.
“I’m going in with very high hopes that he’s going to run a very big race. I think there’s not much between my top chances but right now I’m thinking Eagle Way is the horse to beat.”
Charismatic colt set for mile and a half affair
Despite being bred, foaled and raised on the other side of the world, Queen Mother runner-up Helene Charisma has a similar profile to Eagle Way. The French-bred son of Air Chief Marshal began his career midway through his two-year-old season, but needed time to show his best.
He won the G1 Grand Prix de Paris (2400m), France’s premier mile and a half race for three-year-olds, at his final start for former trainer Pia Brandt in July 2016 before he was purchased by another prominent Hong Kong owner, Sir Po-shing Woo and his family.
Helene Charisma is winless from six Hong Kong starts but has continued to improve, running on stoutly for fifths in the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) and a Class 2 over 2200m before stamping himself as a true 2400m horse with his dogged second to Eagle Way last time out.
“He’s done everything right since he’s been in Hong Kong, especially since last start,” Moore said. “He just tends to get a little bit wayward at the finish, he hangs across heels and can be a little bit awkward. Maybe what he needs is to stick to the fence to stop him hanging, so I’m hoping he can get a rails run through to keep a straight line and hopefully they are swooping out wider.”
The bay colt worked on the course proper under raceday rider Douglas Whyte on Thursday morning. He was accompanied by stablemate Pablosky, who runs in Sunday’s Class 2 California Memory Handicap (1200m), with the pair completing 1200m in 1m 20.6s (28.0, 29.6, 23.0). The most impressive part of the four-year-old’s work, though, came through the line.
“Past the post this morning, you could see him just starting to get into his work,” Moore said. “He is a rusted-on mile and a half horse, he’s the type who will be competitive against anything from Europe in the (G1) Hong Kong Vase in December – we need these types of horses here. That said, there aren’t that many races for them so the owners have to be patient, but Sunday’s race is one that will suit.”
Moore’s other three runners were also out on Thursday morning. Werther, third to Neorealism in the G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (2000m) last start, was the first of the handler’s horses to take to the turf, stepping out over 1200m in 1m 21.6s (28.2, 29.7, 23.7) in partnership with retired sprinter Leading City.
“Sam (Clipperton) rode him this morning, as he has done before,” said Moore, with regular rider Hugh Bowman taking his place in the saddle on Sunday. “We took the blinkers off him this morning and he will race without them. It was a recommendation from Hugh, stepping up to the 2400m, and I thought it was a wise idea, just to help him settle and see out the trip.”
Clipperton also partnered Designs On Rome, who he rides for the first time in Sunday’s HK$10 million event, in a steady canter on Sha Tin’s main all-weather track. Moore’s fifth runner, Basic Trilogy, also stayed on the dirt.
Two Tony Cruz runners join the Moore quintet – two-time winner (2014 & 2016) Blazing Speed and emerging four-year-old Gold Mount. Moore, who is seeking his first Champions & Chater victory since Mighty High in 2011, believes little separates Eagle Way, Helene Charisma and Werther.
“I’m expecting a tight finish between my three main contenders, I can’t see anything racing away for a big victory,” the trainer said. “Obviously, you also have to respect Tony’s pair too. But after this morning, I can’t be happier with all five of mine and I think the stage is set for an exciting race, a real spectacle. We’re going in there with all guns firing.”
The G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup is scheduled as the seventh of 10 races and will jump at 4.05pm.
Eagle Way gets the better of Helene Charisma to win the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup in April.
Helene Charisma on his way to post for the Queen Mother Memorial Cup.