Star mare Almond Eye made “no contest” of the Tenno Sho (Autumn) on Sunday at Tokyo. Will she race next in the Japan Cup or Hong Kong Cup? Photo by JRA.

Michael Cox’s HK Six-Up: Almond Eye ticks all the boxes for Lemaire

Michael Cox




Almond Eye’s astonishing return in last Sunday’s Tenno Sho in Tokyo has Hong Kong racing fans licking their lips in anticipation that the champion mare might make an appearance in December at Sha Tin.

Connections are tossing up between a shot at a second straight Group 1 Japan Cup and the G1 Hong Kong Cup after Almond Eye obliterated rivals in a star-studded Tenno Sho that included ten individual G1 winners and was run in near-race record time.

Speaking to Asian Racing Hub, Jockey Christophe Lemaire gave an insight into Almond Eye’s performance and suggested the now six-time G1 winner has returned an even better horse than before.

“She has shown once again her class. In two strides she really crushed all of the challengers, which was amazing in a field of horses with ten Group One winners,” he said.

“I was confident the whole way around because she was galloping freely and racing well. She showed a beautiful stride and she was just waiting for me to press the button and when I did it, she reacted brilliantly.”

“To be able to comeback like that after five months it was a tremendous performance and if she keeps this condition or even improves – it will be interesting to see her again in big races, wherever she is. But once again, she was brilliant at Tokyo and I hope everybody enjoyed watching such a good horse on the track, it is just such a privilege to be on such a classy horse.”


Exultant ready first-up, Vase not Cup for HKIR

Tony Cruz says Exultant “is there to win” in Sunday’s Group 3 Ladies Purse and confirmed the star stayer will tackle the Hong Kong Vase in December and not come back to the 2,000m of the richer Hong Kong Cup.

While almost all of Hong Kong’s top middle distance and staying stars have already had at least one start this season, Cruz has held back with Exultant.

Cruz skipped the recent Group 2 Sha Tin Trophy – “a mile is way too short, Exultant would have only just got going at the winning post,” he said – in favour of resuming over 1800m.

“It’s a race he can actually compete at, he is a very clean-winded horse and we have him fit enough. He is ready, my only concern is the weight,” said Cruz, with his 129-rated galloper to lump 133-pounds and give significant weight to some accomplished and race-fit rivals.

Southern Legend heads into the race with the benefit of two runs and getting six-pounds from Exultant and Singapore Sling – who hasn’t won since his victory over the course and distance in the 2018 Hong Kong Classic Cup – gets a massive 13-pounds after an unplaced run in the Sha Tin Trophy.

Provided he comes through this weekend unscathed, Cruz said Exultant would “definitely” head to the HK$20 million Vase on International Day and was not tempted by the extra HK$8 million on offer for the Cup.

“No, I think his best distance is 2400m,” Cruz said, before suggesting Exultant would almost certainly head abroad this season – most likely to Dubai for the G1 Sheema Classic in March.

“We go where the schedule tells us to go here in Hong Kong, we don’t get a choice, but after the Hong Kong Gold Cup in February there is not a single race for him until April, so we will definitely look to head overseas.”

Cruz also provided an update on his dual-G1 winner Time Warp, who, like Exultant, heads into Sunday’s feature after two 1200m dirt trials, but after a very different last 12-months to his celebrated stablemate.

Time Warp won last year’s Ladies’ Purse second-up and while his third in the Hong Kong Cup after that was sound, the six-year-old struck a late season form slump and has been unplaced in his last six runs.

“He just went sour but we have sent him up to Conghua to try and freshen his mind,” Cruz said. “We hope it does the trick, because there is nothing wrong with him physically. It is just a mental thing. His last trial was good and hopefully he can get back to his best.”


From the hills of Tuscany to the stables of Sha Tin

The off-track bro-mance between new trainer Douglas Whyte and jockey Alberto Sanna has blossomed on track this season with the pair combining for four of the Italian rider’s six winners.

Sanna, a native of Sardinia, has spent time during the off-season in his homeland with Whyte, who owns a farm in Tuscany.

The hard-working jockey was one of the first to return to Sha Tin from the most recent off-season and made a beeline for Whyte’s new set-up at the Olympic Stables.

“We are good friends but when it comes to the mornings we are all business,” said Sanna, who has a full book of rides at Happy Valley on Wednesday night, including three solid chances for Whyte: Winning Endeavour, Bright Kid and Last Kingdom.

Alberto Sanna and Douglas Whyte have combined successfully so far this season. Photo by HKJC.


Sanna said the combination had little to do with wining and dining in the Italian countryside.

“We are both very determined people. He wants to train winners, I want to ride winners, so that is how it works,” he said.


Racetrack whispers from Ho

Vincent Ho returns from an early season sojourn to California – where he studied under legendary horse whisperer Monty Roberts – with five rides including top chance Universal Go Go.

Ho turned a three meeting suspension into a positive by flying to Roberts’ “Flags Are Up Farms” in the Santa Ynez Valley for a short course in horse handling.

“It definitely helped me be a better horseman, and I guess now we get to see if that transfers to making me a better jockey,” said Ho, who remarked that it was the insight into horse psychology that was most beneficial.

Vincent Ho returned to Hong Kong to promote Sa Sa Day coming up and is focussed on more winners at Happy Valley on Wednesday. Photo by HKJC.


Ho nominated Universal Go Go as his best of the night on Wednesday, with a better draw – and hopefully a cleaner getaway – being key to the horse’s chances.

Universal Go Go is capable of taking up a position but after drawing wide last time an awkward start meant Ho was forced to come from last and circle the field when second to runaway favourite High Rev.


Moore’s early Derby pick

If John Moore is to add a seventh Hong Kong Derby to his record in his final season then the horse most likely to do it is Enjoyable.

That has long been the take from the big race trainer when it comes to the Australian-import formerly known as Global Exchange.

Much like Moore’s 2016 Derby winner Werther, Global Exchange arrives with solid three-year-old form, without it being spectacular, but has thrived at Sha Tin since arriving.

“This isn’t a slight against his former trainer Ciaron Maher, but he raced very light in Australia and we’ve managed to put some condition on him since he got here,” Moore said.

Champion jockey Zac Purton, who rode Enjoyable in the second of the gelding’s two lead-up trials, has been booked to ride the 87-rater in Sunday’s first-up assignment, a 1600m race for 95-75 ratings band horses.


Yip’s enjoying beautiful Sunset

One 2020 Derby-eligible import that won’t be stretched to the trip is Sunset Watch, at least that is what Dennis Yip is saying now ahead of the sprinter’s local debut on Sunday.

Rated 87 after showing some solid stakes form for David Hayes in Australia, Yip said Sunset Watch has acclimatised quickly and a forward turf trial two week’s ago – the horse’s third since arriving at Sha Tin – showed the trainer means business with the horse first-up.

“The owner purchased this horse himself, I didn’t choose for him, but I am very happy with the horse and the way he has settled in,” Yip told Hutchi’s Honkers after showing off some of his mountain bike skills by riding down a large staircase.


Vincent Ho has been booked to ride Sunset Watch in an extended ratings band (105-80).

Sunset Watch is a son of 2013 Derby winner Akeed Mofeed but Yip said the gelding, unlike his sire, is a straight-up sprinter.

“No he won’t ever get beyond the shorter trips,” Yip said.




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