It was a day for favourites at Sha Tin on Saturday, 11 February, as seven of the 10 races fell the way of the market pick. And that was the case, too, in the afternoon’s Class 2 standouts as California Disegno and House Of Fun obliged.
Silvestre de Sousa was seen at his robust best aboard California Disegno (122lb) in the Sam Shing Handicap (1600m), race seven on the card. The 2.4 jolly had not won since taking out a Kempton Park maiden back in June, 2014, but a last start second sign-posted the smart five-year-old’s return to something like the form that had seen him place at G3 level in the UK.
The Brazilian settled Tony Cruz’s charge sixth of 10 in the run, one spot off the fence, as Travel First (116lb) set the pace under Kei Chiong. Once into clear ground upon straightening, de Sousa got to work, driving hard through the final 400m to hold at bay stablemate and BMW Hong Kong Derby entrant Circuit Hassler (121lb). The winning distance was a length; the time 1m 34.15s.
“He dug deep for me, so that was good to see, he fought to get his head in front,” de Sousa said after California Disegno had opened his Hong Kong account at the 10th attempt. “He has good form behind him in England, so we’ll see where he can go to, but there’s a bit more to come from him.”
Cruz said: “I don’t believe California Disegno’s a Group horse but he did that nicely today – I thought he would have won last time. Circuit Hassler is improving – I ran here because I didn’t think his rating was high enough to get into the Classic Cup on the 19th. I had a feeling he wouldn’t get in but he proved today that he should get in there and if I can find a race for him to win between now and then we’ll be in for sure.”
Cruz nailed a double in the last, section one of the Class 3 Wu King Handicap (1400m), thanks to Daring Fit (117lb). Douglas Whyte piloted the Iffraaj gelding to a third straight win; the 5.2 chance battled past 1.8 favourite Beat The Clock (133lb) to register a neck success.
“He’s always been improving, physically and racing-wise. He just keeps getting more and more professional,” the trainer said.
The Moreira/Size axis
It was de Sousa’s compatriot, Joao Moreira, who dominated riding honours, though. A four-timer for the champion jockey included two in tandem with champion trainer John Size.
In the Tai Ting Handicap (1200m) – race eight – the Moreira/Size axis combined with House Of Fun as the four-year-old bounced back from a disappointing effort last time out over 1400m. The 2.4 favourite benefitted from the drop in trip as he parked third and then quickened at the top of the stretch to post a length and a half triumph in 1m 08.79s, a shade inside standard. That was win number four at start 11.
“The distance last time was probably the major factor, and the weight he had to carry,” Size said. “But he just doesn’t want to be kind at the 1400 at the moment – later on he might relax a little bit but at the moment he just wants to go a bit too keenly. The tempo of the 1200 is suiting him better, but I’m governed by the programme as to what race I put him in, so we’ll see what’s on, but it looks like the 1200 would be most suitable for him.
“You’re only guessing how good a horse might be but he’s always shown good ability, like a Class Two horse, and now he’s won a race in Class Two, even though it’s at the bottom – I think that’s satisfactory for him.”
Size and Moreira combined again when Volitation, the 2.4 favourite, annexed race nine, the second section of the Class 3 Wu King Handicap (1400m). The Brazilian earlier joined forces with Danny Shum to win race two, the Class 5 Fu Tai Handicap (1800m), with 2.4 favourite Gorgeous Again, and with Manfred Man for an exciting sprint success on Happy Happy Star.
Happy Happy Star was one of two smart three-year-olds that fulfilled early expectations in the first half of the card, Man’s charge justifying strong support in landing the Class 4 Lung Yat Handicap (1200m) and Magic Legend scoring on debut in the Class 3 Po Tin Handicap (1000m).
The former returned the 1.7 favourite as Moreira enjoyed a straightforward assignment; the O’Reilly gelding raced prominently on the fence before taking an outright lead on the turn for home. The race was over from that point as the bay kicked clear and, although the winner’s stride shortened in the closing stages, the verdict was never in doubt. The clock stopped at 1m 09.71s for a length and a quarter victory.
“I was quite confident about him going into the race,” Moreira said. “Honestly, I thought he was going to win it easier but I was still happy with how he’s done it today because I can still feel that he’s got plenty of improvement to come.”
The trainer, meanwhile, will stick to the winning formula, for the time being.
“He’s rated 54 so we’ll see what the handicapper does with his rating,” Man said, “but at this moment, I think I’ll stick to 1200 metres with him for his next start and then we’ll think about 1400. He’s a very smart horse, everything is straightforward with him and he had been working well coming into this race.”
Magic Legend had sign-posted his readiness for a smart Hong Kong debut with an eye-catching barrier trial “win” on 17 January. The Red Element gelding, a winner of two from five in Australia pre-import, returned at 10/1 to kick-off the first leg of doubles for Moore and former champion jockey Whyte.
“The way he trialled, he lived right up to that here – I was confident coming here today,” the handler said.
“He’ll stick to 1000 metres for now, which will give us time to work on the horse – he’s got a lot of traits that we’ve had to iron out and you could see there that he was hanging in the last 200 metres, which made it difficult for Douglas to keep him straight.
“He’s got a bit of an engine, so if we can iron out his issues he should have a future,” he added.
Two for Purton
In the very next race, the Class 4 Yan Oi Tong Cup Handicap (1600m), the admirable Go Beauty Go sealed doubles for Moore and jockey Zac Purton, the latter having scored on Vanilla two races prior.
Go Beauty Go (132lb) was the 2.1 first pick in the betting and obliged with a two lengths success from C P Power (120lb).
“It was pretty uncomplicated,” Purton said after picking off the afternoon’s designated trophy race. “He drew barrier one, and when he got the split he showed a bit more strength today. He’s still a little bit immature and weak on the physical side, so as time goes on he should show that little bit more improvement and hopefully continue to go through the ratings.”
Purton rewarded favourite backers atop Vanilla, too. The Caspar Fownes-trained seven-year-old lined up for the Class 3 On Ting Handicap (1650m) off a rating of 74, a full 14lb higher than when a 10-length victor at his previous start. Sent off the 3.4 favourite, Vanilla ground his way to the line for a one-length win.
“He’s won off a higher mark before so I knew, even though he’d had the big rating hit after his last win, that he’d be able to handle it. He was aided by a good barrier and the race worked out well for us,” Purton said.
Size, meanwhile, bagged a three-timer all told, Neil Callan having punched home Enreaching to win the first, the Class 4 Butterfly Handicap (1650m) on the dirt.
Barrier trial sees Pakistan Star warm up for Classic Cup
Pakistan Star continues to be a point of focus and Tony Cruz’s charge was under the microscope again this morning, Friday, 10 February, when stretching out in a 1200m all-weather track barrier trial alongside fellow Four-Year-Old Classic Series contenders Winner’s Way and Dinozzo. All three are engaged in Sunday week’s (19 February) Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m).
The horse that gained internet stardom with searing late bursts from the tail was bustled forward from the break at his most recent start, the Hong Kong Classic Mile, in which he boxed on to finish three and three quarter lengths fifth behind Rapper Dragon.
Silvestre de Sousa was in the plate on that occasion and the Brazilian ace took the reins for this morning’s trial at a wintry Sha Tin. The rider was busy the moment the gates crashed back, urging his mount on. Pakistan Star, for his part, broke smartly and travelled three wide towards the fore as Wah May Friend set the tempo.
The Shamardal gelding was marginally tapped for toe entering the final turn but clicked up a gear in the stretch to close nicely for second, three quarters of a length behind stablemate Winner’s Way.
“He’s in cracking form and we’ll just hope for a bit of luck when he runs,” de Sousa said. “I was very happy with him (in the trial); he did everything I asked him for, so I’m delighted.”
Winner’s Way was tardy at the break but gradually made up ground along the rail under Matthew Chadwick to be on the leader’s heels turning in. Switched out for running upon straightening, the Classic Mile fourth eased to the front 150m out and passed the post in a time of 1m 10.10s.
The John Size-trained Dinozzo is a likeable type that has progressed each time he has engaged in competition. Last time out, the Lilbourne Lad gelding notched a smart Class 2 win at 1800m to continue his progression and earn a Hong Kong Classic Cup entry.
Karis Teetan – wearing a muffler to combat the rare cold snap – settled the bay rearward against the rail and did little but steer as his mount rolled home for eye-catching late headway to third, a length and a half back. Size was content.
“He’s very consistent,” the trainer said, “he seems to do the same thing all the time, so he seems to be in good shape.”
Joao Moreira was aboard the Size-trained three-year-old Nothingilikemore, an impressive debut winner over 1200m in Class 4 last month under Ryan Moore. The Husson gelding chased the front rank and was just nudged out to keep tabs on the principals in the run to the line. The bay finished a length and three quarters fifth of the nine triallists.