Hong Kong Horse Racing: Hong Kong Gold Cup and Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup
With Hong Kong in the grip of a murky, cloud-covered cold snap, Zac Purton is crossing his fingers that any rain will remain locked overhead, at least until Beauty Only has had his chance to break the gloom in Sunday’s (26 February) HK$10 million G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m). According to the weather forecast, rain patches are a possibility across the weekend.
“It’s not going to be ideal if it rains. He’s better on a firmer track, so we don’t want the rain to come,” the jockey said this morning (Friday, 24 February) before heading out into a chilly breeze for a bracing barrier trial session.
If the showers stay away, Beauty Only has only to contend with a distance at which he has never before won, and the matter of six talented rivals. Among the sextet are reigning Horse of the Year Werther, and the street-fighter of a former champion that has made this race his own for the past two years, Designs On Rome.
“There’s a question-mark about the distance, his better form has been at a mile but I just feel like he’s a more mature horse at the moment,” Purton said of Beauty Only.
The gelding’s trainer, Tony Cruz, added: “He’s losing his early speed, so we thought we’d give the longer distance a try this time and we know he’s run well at the trip once before. He’s got real class this horse, so hopefully that helps him stretch out.”
That class took the six-year-old to victory in December’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile, but the son of Holy Roman Emperor’s three attempts at 10 furlongs have yielded a form line that reads sixth, third, eighth. However, the view that his opponents may not be at the peak of their powers, with Werther second-up off an injury lay-off, and both Designs On Rome and Blazing Speed entering the veteran stages of their careers, has prompted connections to revisit.
“It looked like it was a weaker race than what we would normally get, so that gives him the opportunity to try this distance again. Hopefully, he can handle it,” Purton said. “He had an excuse at 2000 metres when he performed poorly here the last time he tried it; he was made use of early to be in a position, and that just backfired on them.”
That back-fire came in the 2015 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup, a below-expectations effort that followed a fine third under Gerald Mosse in the G2 Jockey Club Cup at the course and distance three weeks prior.
“The time (Gerald) Mosse rode him and gave him a chance, he really rocketed to the line well. He only has to reproduce that and he’s going to be thereabouts anyway,” the former champion jockey added.
And Purton notes one factor that he believes should work in Beauty Only’s favour: his mount’s trademark acceleration.
“You’d think Beauty Only’s got the best turn-of-foot in the race, and you know, he showed he had a good set of lungs in the Hong Kong Mile, which gives me some confidence that he can run the trip,” he said.
“It’s hard to see them rolling along, given the small field that we’ve got and the lack of natural leaders. But we can’t worry about that. I know that he’s got a very good turn-of-foot, and if it had to be a sit-and-sprint, it might play into my hands. It would give my horse the chance to run the distance anyway.
“You’d think that the race is going to change complexion from the half-mile because you know Tommy’s (Berry) not going to sit back there on Designs On Rome, knowing how he likes to ride that horse. I’m expecting a mid-race move and it’s going to change things very quickly, and hopefully we can just cope with that when it happens and run home strongly,” Purton said.
The G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup also features the Dennis Yip-trained Secret Weapon, successful in November’s G2 Jockey Club Cup and second to Maurice in the G1 Hong Kong Cup. Flame Hero and Basic Trilogy complete the line-up.
The Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup is the second leg of the Hong Kong Triple Crown. Helene Paragon won the initial leg, the G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) at Sha Tin in January, and the concluding leg is the G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup over 2400m in May.
Sunday’s 10-race card also features the HK$ 10 million G1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) in which G1 winners Able Friend, Helene Paragon and Contentment will lock horns.
Trainer John Size enters the G1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup double-handed as he aims to score a third win in the Sha Tin feature on Sunday (26 February). And in Contentment and Sun Jewellery, the Australian handler holds a pair of potential aces for the only G1 held over 1400m in Hong Kong each year.
Size entered a rare club on Wednesday night when he joined John Moore and Tony Cruz as the only horsemen to prepare 1000 Hong Kong winners. The trainer was quickly focused on Sunday’s races, though, particularly his two G1 runners.
Contentment’s win in last year’s Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup, the second leg of the Hong Kong Speed Series, gave Size his second success in the race, having won the contest with Electronic Unicorn in 2004.
Jockey Brett Prebble was in the plate for the first time that day, and has partnered the Hussonet gelding at each of his nine starts since – efforts that have included a second in the G1 Champions Mile to Maurice, a fourth to Beauty Only in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile and even an overseas sojourn to Japan, although that ended in disappointment when he finished last of 12 in the G1 Yasuda Kinen (1600m) in Tokyo in June.
“He’s been consistently running the same race every start this campaign, at least once he got into his preparation,” said Prebble at Sha Tin trackwork on Friday morning (24 February). “Is he below his best from when I won on him? Yeah, I think he is, but he’s just been so consistent without running to that peak again. But he’s with John Size, so you know that he is capable of producing it from them at any time.
“He’s fit and well, he’s holding his form very strong and he did trial well since his last start. The problem is that he is one and a quarter lengths off them every time, he needs to find that margin.”
Prebble says the return to 1400m, where Contentment has won five from eight and has only missed the board once, is a crucial factor for his chances of snaring back-to-back Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cups.
“The 1400m is his pet distance,” he said of the six-year-old, drawn in gate six. “The mile, he runs well but he lacks that kick. This is right up his alley. Also, a smaller field might change things around, it should be a slower tempo and maybe he’ll control the race or find himself in a position where he’s more favoured. That will suit him.”
Sun Jewellery looks another suited by a potentially tactical race, as he seeks to turn his season around after a handful of poor races in the big mile contests.
“It looks like this race is going to play out well for him,” jockey Zac Purton said of the five-year-old, who will jump from gate four in the eight-horse field. “He’ll be somewhere up near the speed and he should be suited. It’s going to give him every chance to produce his best and hopefully he does.”
Purton had not been aboard the Snitzel five-year-old before he tested him in a recent barrier trial on the Sha Tin all-weather track, clocking 1m 10.65s for the 1200m as he finished first past the post, ahead of G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) runner Blazing Speed. And Purton believes the trial may indicate that the chestnut is close to returning to the form which saw him take the first two legs of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, the Hong Kong Classic Mile and the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m), in 2016.
“I was pleasantly surprised because his form this season didn’t look flash,” the Australian rider said. “It looked like he was struggling on raceday, but he did everything right in the trial. He jumped out well, he travelled good, he towed me into it and he gave me a good feel. Hopefully, he’s not just a morning horse and he can do it in the afternoons too!
“The trial does give me a little bit of confidence going to the races thinking that he may be starting to find himself again.”
Size’s fellow members of the millennium club, Moore and Cruz, both send out runners, with Moore in particular possessing a strong hand. He saddles up 2015 winner Able Friend, last-start G1 Stewards’ Cup winner Helene Paragon and consistent Joyful Trinity, while Cruz is represented by Giant Treasure, having just his second run for the stable.
Ricky Yiu’s up-and-coming chestnut Blizzard and Tony Millard-trained Strathmore complete the eight runners for the G1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup, which jumps as the third of 10 Sha Tin races at 2pm on Sunday. The other G1 feature, the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m), is scheduled for race seven at 4:05pm.