EURO IMPORTS IN DEEP FOR CLASSIC MILE TEST
The Year of the Rat dawns at Sha Tin on Monday with some of Hong Kong's brightest young prospects in a race that has been a springboard for stellar careers.
Acting as leg one of a Four-Year-Old Classic Series that continues with the Classic Cup (February 23rd) and the Hong Kong Derby (March 22nd), the Classic Mile has a rich recent roll of honour headed by Able Friend and also including the high-class Beauty Only, Gold-Fun and Derby heroes Rapper Dragon and Furore.
Beauty Only and Gold-Fun were European imports and this year's Classic Mile features several familiar faces from Britain and Ireland, namely More Than This, Awe, Playa Del Puente and Decrypt. Britannia Handicap fourth Awe faces a daunting task on these terms, while former useful Irish winner Playa Del Puente also needs to improve on what he's shown in Hong Kong so far.
Irish Guineas third Decrypt moves up to a mile with Silvestre de Sousa aboard after two solid efforts over 7f, but if there's to be another Euro name on the Classic Mile Trophy then the most likely candidate is More Than This.
RYAN RETURNS SEEKING MORE SUCCESS
Richard Fahey rated More Than This highly when he won three from three in 2018 and the Dutch Art gelding has thrived for rejuvenated Francis Lui, completing a four timer with a dramatic late swoop over course and distance under Karis Teetan last month.
Teetan is unbeaten in three aboard More Than This but Hong Kong owners aren't known for sentiment when big races come around and the Mauritian has been benched for Ryan Moore, who won the 2016 Classic Mile aboard Sun Jewellery.
Moore will be aware that wide draws have left More Than This poorly placed on both his last two runs. His storming finish got him out of jail but he can't afford a repeat with Golden Sixty and Beauty Legacy on deck.
MOREIRA CHOOSES BEAUTY OVER CHAMPION'S
Beauty Legacy mixed it with some of Australia's best milers from the front in 2019 and showed a different side to his game on his debut for John Size, surging from well back to defy a mark of 92 impressively.
Any horse who can score from such a rating first time out in Class 2 has to be a potential Group winner and Joao Moreira has chosen Beauty Legacy - now rated 100 - ahead of 108-rated stablemate Champion's Way.
But Beauty Legacy looks far from straightforward. Edgy in the paddock and at the start three weeks ago, he secured a dream run up the inner and it will be interesting to see if the quirks that Size refers to as “management issues” hold him back should Monday's race prove more complicated.
SIXTY OUT TO STRETCH HIS GOLDEN RUN
Golden Sixty was also edgy in his early days but his progress has been striking, with seven wins from eight starts hallmarked by a stalking style and a string of rapid final 2f splits that have left rivals gasping.
Vincent Ho has been aboard from the word go and Golden Sixty's latest Group 3 success - gained in clinical style as he powered clear of the smart Fat Turtle and Champion's Way - earned him a 112 rating that puts him clear of the pack.
That mark was gained over 7f but Golden Sixty should be fully effective at a mile. He should get pace to run at with freewheeling Buddies in opposition and his acceleration can seal the deal if gaps come at the right time.
PACE MAKES THE RACE FOR EXULTANT AND HARMONY
Five more British and Irish imports line up for the Group 3 Centenary Vase (5.30) and the stats that the quintet have recorded in Hong Kong are striking.
Exultant, Time Warp, Simply Brilliant, Dr Geoff and Glorious Dragon have won 24 races for a combined prize money haul of around ten million sterling and three of the quintet lines up in winning form.
By contrast, Exultant thrives at Sha Tin. Tony Cruz’s gelding – rated 120 in the recent World’s Best Racehorse Rankings – relished a fierce gallop to win this in 2019 and is firmly established as Hong Kong’s best middle-distance stayer.
Trailblazing stablemate Time Warp could well set the race up for him again but Zac Purton has suggested that two tough races before Christmas took plenty out of Exultant. Time will tell if his caution is well founded but Exultant concedes between 13lb and 20lb to a smart field and dual Brazilian Group 1 scorer Harmony Victory is another who can shine if the pace plays in favour of holdup horses.
MOREIRA BOOKING LOOKS A HINT WORTH TAKING
Purton and Moreira are the only riders with full books on Monday’s eleven-race card and Hong Kong’s big two could be in for one of their regular head to heads in the Good Fortune Handicap at 8.05.
The Aussie sticks with Assimilate, who went down by a short head to Looking Good over course and distance recently and is weighted to reverse the form. However, Assimilate doesn’t look a straightforward customer when things get tough and Taking Aim looks a very solid alternative.
John Moore’s chestnut has gradually found his form and chased a true pace throughout when fourth to Beauty Legacy on his latest start. He’s well treated from a mark of 83 and looks a major player from a good draw (3) with Moreira in the irons for the first time.