Able Friend, Werther and Beauty Only clash in stellar Group 1
Preview: Hong Kong, Monday 8.40am GMT (live on ATR & RUK)
Sha Tin: Stewards' Cup (Group 1) 1m, 3yo+ | turf (B track)
The first leg of the Hong Kong Triple Crown has drawn a stellar field for the feature on the Chinese New Year raceday.
Werther, Able Friend and Designs On Rome, the last three winners of Hong Kong's horse of the year title, are joined by the likes of Hong Kong Mile winner Beauty Only and last year's winner Giant Treasure as the jurisdictions 12 highest-rated milers fight it out for this Group 1 contest worth over £1 million.
Able Friend may have been plagued by injury since 2015 but he is undoubtedly still the star attraction. Hong Kong's highest ever rated horse in his prime, he could not live with Beauty Only in the Mile on his second start back when trainer John Moore knew he was short of peak fitness.
It told and despite the crazy fractions suiting those held up and following the eventual winner through he could do no better than sixth. With a month's more training under his belt this could be his chance to reassert under the magic man Joao Moreira.
Hong Kong's second best jockey Zac Purton sticks with Beauty Only but, despite his brilliant win over Able Friend in the Mile, fears a reversal of form.
"If Able Friend's at his best, he's clearly a better horse than Beauty Only," he said matter-of-factly. "I know the Moore stable is very confident with Able Friend but a lot of times when horses have injuries they can show you in the morning they've still got it, but under full pressure in a race they can just be found out a little.
"On International day, when the pressure was on, Able Friend came up short and from our point of view we'd hope that's the case again on Monday."
Both are drawn wide while last year's Hong Kong Derby winner Werther, to be ridden for the first time by Sam Clipperton, has the plum inside drawn in stall one. He has been off since May due to a suspensory injury and if fully wound up he too could be a factor in this mouthwatering contest.
Also on Monday
Sha Tin: Centenary Sprint Cup (Group 2) 6f | turf (B track) | 3yo+ | 6.00am (live on ATR & RUK)
Earlier on the card Aerovelocity and Lucky Bubbles, first and second in last month's Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint, clash again with everything very much in favour of a reversal.
While Aerovelocity had a dream run in the Sprint, Lucky Bubbles got trapped behind horses, had to come wide for any sort of run and finished with such a charge he still nearly got there.
The smaller field of eight should mean he is less likely to find trouble while he will not have to go as wide even if he does and perhaps just as crucially Aerovelocity carries a 5lb Group 1 penalty for his short-head success.
Brett Prebble, who rides Lucky Bubbles, is bullish. "He's the best sprinter in Hong Kong," he said. "He's fit and well and he's healthy, he's actually very fresh and ready to go. Six weeks between runs is a long time.
"He needed another race to go again. He's a lightly-raced horse and he had a very good preparation going into the International, it was just unfortunate we didn't have any luck in the running."