Who will take on Almond Eye in the Hong Kong Cup? Photo by the JRA.

Michael Cox’s HK Six-Up: Who’s afraid of Almond Eye?

Michael Cox

Michael Cox

For hutchishonkers.com

12/11/19

 

The Almond Eye factor already kicking in as potential rivals run and hide.

Who’s afraid of Almond Eye? Well, it turns out connections of other Japanese horses are, with reports that Deidre will dodge the six-time Group 1 winner.

Last week we hinted at the Almond Eye-effect on the Hong Kong Cup and that potential rivals could opt for the longer Hong Kong Vase – or to not come to Hong Kong at all – in order to avoid the champ.

As we suggested, Deidre will be sent to the 2400m of the Vase – a race worth considerably less than the HK$27million Cup at HK$20million – for a better chance of victory.

Deidre, a winner of the G1 Nassau Stakes at Goodwood and most recently a brave third on unsuitably soft ground in the Champion Stakes at the end of a four-run European campaign, was second in last year’s Hong Kong Cup and ran on for sixth in the G1 QEII Cup in April.

On the flat Sha Tin layout, and in a race that is rarely run at breakneck pace,  2400m shouldn’t be a problem for Deidre, who was fourth to Soul Stirring over the trip in the 2017 Yushun Himba (Oaks) on the far more testing Tokyo lay-out.

 

Vase not an option for Lor

One trainer not dodging Almond Eye is trainer Frankie Lor with defending Hong Kong Cup champion Glorious Forever, but it’s not because he is particularly bullish about beating her, just that he doesn’t have much choice.

“The 2400m isn’t an option for him,” Lor said, who stretched Glorious Forever to the trip late last season when fifth in the Group 1 Champions & Chater Cup.

“James McDonald rode him and came back and said 2400m is just a bit too much for him, we will stick to 2000m, even if Almond Eye is there.”

Glorious Forever hasn’t won since International Day last year and faded to ninth in the Group 2 Sha Tin Trophy first-up after sitting outside the leader.

“He has to lead and control races, that is the key for him, the only way he can win,” Lor said.

 

High-rated 2020 Derby horse unveiled at Valley trials on Saturday

Most of the 2020 Hong Kong Derby contenders have been to the races but one highly rated horse that hasn’t even been to the trials since arriving is Lor’s G1-placed import Decrypt.

Decrpyt, purchased by Albert Huang (Rapper Dragon, Ruthven) after a third in the 2019 G1 Irish 2000 Guineas, arrives with a rating of 93 and Lor said he will send the three-year-old to Happy Valley for his first barrier trial on Saturday.

“The ground is a little more forgiving at Happy Valley, they have been running very fast times here,” Lor said, pointing to the Sha Tin course proper.

Indeed, as has been well-documented here in this column, Sha Tin has been running lightning quick but trackman Stephen Higgins is adamant that fast doesn’t equal hard.

“All the indications; clegg hammer, penetrometer, going stick, moisture content and walking the track tell us that it has more give than in previous years,” he said on Tuesday.

 

Champion’s Way’s flop

Champion’s Way probably sat atop most 2020 Hong Kong Derby rankings before a worrying betting drift and unplaced run first-up on Sunday brought some doubts about the 108-rated four-year-old.

So should we be re-assessing where Champion’s Way sits in the pecking order, or be more forgiving of a first-up run in a race where jockey Joao Moreira ended up further back than he expected, the 1,200m to 800m sectional was run at breakneck speed (20.95 seconds) and resulted in a track record time?

Champion’s Way disappointed many with his seasonal return. Photo by HKJC.

Moreira’s explanation to stewards post-race – that the horse “travelled only fairly”, even with the aforementioned factors of race position and tempo – wasn’t exactly encouraging, but analyst Clint Hutchison said there were plenty of forgiving factors.

“It was probably what you would call a pass, at best, maybe a little disappointing,” he said of the run.

“But we knew going in he had top weight and was first-up, and then when they are running a track record like they did, breaking one minute 21 seconds for 1400m, and you are giving the leaders eight or nine lengths on the turn, you are never going to be a winning chance. I would have like to see him attack the line a touch better. Perhaps he needed the run though and I wouldn’t be writing him off, he is going to be a lot better for the race. He might also be better in a race where he can get in a Class 1 with a lighter weight, and stripping fitter for that run, it should allow him to settle a little bit closer. He got better through his preparation last time and I expect him to again so I wouldn’t be jumping off him.”

In previous years that Class 1 would have been on International Day over 1400m, but sadly what used to be a high quality contest of future stars and useful veterans was dropped from the day in 2017.

 

Teetan’s all-you-can-eat diet

You’ve read the clichéd racing story, the one that is written every time a big handicap race rolls around; it’s the piece about the jockey on a black coffee and cigarette diet, spending eight hours per day in a sweat room as he desperately wastes to make a light weight.

 

Karis Teetan is the envy of many jockeys given his natural light weight. Photo by HKJC.

 

Karis Teetan, who rides Aethero at 113-pounds in Sunday’s G2 Jockey Club Sprint, is not the jockey in that story.

“Yesterday I had a lovely afternoon tea, then a big bowl of pasta and a big piece of banana cake for breakfast before I came here this morning “, said the wire-thin Mauritian. “Tomorrow I will have another big breakfast, but that is every day, 113-pounds for me is not a problem.”

Teetan recently returned home to Mauritius while suspended for the Diwali festival and said that after ‘eating whatever I wanted” that he was still 108-pounds.

 

Regency returns

Teetan rides Aethero in the G2 but leading jockey Zac Purton – who has a well-publicised battle with weight, especially during winter – has first option in the Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint, where the three-year-old will carry 117-pounds.

 

Purton will assess his options after this Sunday’s race, in which he rides Danny Shum’s rising talent Regency Legend.

“We’ll cross the bridge when we come to it,” Purton said of the possibility of getting down to 117 for Aethero, which we will probably write a clichéd jockey weight loss story about given Purton hasn’t ridden 117 or less since February 2012.

Of course the rules allow Purton to claim two pounds over, if trainer John Moore is open to not using the full weight advantage.

But then these prognostications will prove pointless if Regency Legend is as dominant as he has been in his four Hong Kong starts this Sunday.

“He has done everything right so far,” Purton said.

Perhaps the biggest doubt hanging over Regency Legend is the fact he has produced multiple post-race scopes showing blood in his trachea.

The internal issues are why trainer Danny Shum has nursed the four-year-old through this prep, skipping the G2 Premier Bowl and heading straight to the international day trial.

Purton said the feedback from the stable was that Regency Legend’s issues appear to be improving.

“Danny says he his scopes have never looked better after his gallops and trials, so let’s hope he has improved in that way because he is a tremendous talent,” Purton said.

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