Appleby looking to continue fine international record at Sha Tin
Blue Point lines up in Sunday's Chariman's Sprint Prize
It was August 2013. Charlie Appleby had held a training licence for just a month. Joao Moreira was two months away from beginning his stunningly successful riding career in Hong Kong.
The two, of course, had not previously met but they were together in the paddock at Ascot as Moreira had drawn - by lot - Appleby’s charge Ahtoug in the Shergar Cup Dash and the five-year-old proceeded to oblige trainer and jockey by winning the race.
"I really didn’t know anything about him but there he was, by chance, riding for me and riding my first winner of that meeting. Little did I know that he would go on to do what he has," Appleby said.
Ahtoug then had his next start in Dubai, winning on January 9 2014 to provide the trainer with his first Dubai World Cup carnival winner. The son of Byron went on to run in three feature races, photo finish seconds at the carnival including a neck defeat in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint behind Amber Sky who was ridden by - you guessed it - Moreira.
Their paths will cross again this Sunday where they will again be opposed in a Group 1 sprint, the Chairman's Sprint Prize at Sha Tin. Appleby saddles up Blue Point, with William Buick to ride, while Moreira will ride Beat The Clock for local trainer's premiership leader John Size.
Appleby, who arrived in Hong Kong on Thursday, has an appetite for international racing. This may be chiefly driven by his employers Godolphin but he’s taken to it with some relish and his record in France, America and Australia where his strike rate has been phenomenally good is there for all to see.
The momentum has been well and truly maintained early this year with his Group 1 double on World Cup night, claiming the Sheema Classic with Hawkbill and the Al Quoz Sprint with Jungle Cat, the latter taken in the absence of Blue Point who was scratched at the gates.
Now he could make his mark for the first time in Hong Kong where he's had just one previous runner. That was Safety Check, now at stud in Argentina, who finished a creditable fifth behind the powerhouse Maurice in the 2016 Champions Mile at this meeting.
Safety Check was Appleby’s first Group winner in Dubai with his victory in the 2015 Al Fahidi Fort and it was perhaps this horse and Ahtoug who ignited the travelling fire which won’t be extinguished any time soon.
Appleby has already announced that he’s likely to return to Hong Kong to run Frontiersman, who was fourth in the Dubai Gold Cup, in the Champions And Chater Cup in May which is now open to international runners and another Melbourne spring carnival raid is well in the planning with Al Quoz winner Jungle Cat virtually locked in to contest the Rupert Clarke Stakes.
Meanwhile he has Masar, the second favourite for next weekend's 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, to tend to and a race to win in Hong Kong.
The trainer is cautiously optimistic about Sunday's Sprint noting all Group One races are hard to win. "I'm delighted with him," Appleby said. "He's doing all the right stuff, showing us all the right signs.
"Myself and William have spoken about the race and been through the opposition. It's like any Group 1 race, you respect all of them, it's not just one horse in particular. They are all there competing at the highest level. It's not a big field this year, we've drawn six of nine; that suits us, it gives William options on the day."
Beating the Hong Kong locals at their own sprinting game is never easy but irrespective of this weekend’s outcome, I wouldn’t be too keen to bet against Appleby winning a race in Hong Kong and another swag of races in Australia before the year is out.
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