With the poster boy of Hong Kong racing Beauty Generation about to exit stage left, Sunday morning could well be the champ’s final act. However, the most eagerly anticipated audition is set to come in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize (07.50), where the spotlight will shine bright on young sprinting sensation, Aethero.
Few would have thought that John Moore’s speedster would be still seeking his maiden Group 1 win since Beat The Clock and Hot King Prawn ran him down late on in the G1 HK Sprint last December.
All was not well that day and a couple of niggling issues kept him on the sidelines until earlier this month. However, he missed the break badly on that reappearance, nearly dislocated Zac Purton’s shoulders with how hard he pulled and eventually finished dead last behind Voyage Warrior. It’s a challenge to look past that run, even for those of us with a more tolerant outlook.
Since that debacle three weeks ago, Moore, has had nothing but positive updates. The most uplifting was his analysis of an eyebrow-raising barrier trial last Friday, where Aethero flew out of the gates and never saw another rival. Moore said he reckoned he had got to the bottom of what was causing Aethero’s slow starts and although vague on the specifics – his comments should be noted.
On his seasonal debut last October, he ran an identical race and went on to put that behind him in style in his next two outings. His draw in stall 5, with two hold-up horses on his immediate inside, is ideal. Hot King Prawn, his main rival on Sunday, and Big Party are the only two he needs to pass and if he breaks like he can, he’ll do that with ease.
The only untapped potential improver from the pack is Aethero’s stablemate, Thanks Forever. Despite issues coming out of the stalls on time, the change of headgear from cheek pieces to blinkers is very encouraging. He trialled in the blinkers recently and Moore was quoted as saying he’s never seen him hit the gates so fast.
His draw in 11 is going to cause issues, especially given the speed on his inside but if can get in and avoid being trapped wide, he’s the one that could be the biggest beneficiary of Aethero hopefully blazing a trail out in front and giving the rest a target to aim at.
If Aethero is on song his natural ability is in a different league to these and I’d go as far as saying, if he breaks well – he wins!
As in all walks of life, should you follow your head or your heart here? Early Sunday morning is a few hours later than most people are used to quietly posing this question – but it doesn’t make it any easier.
For me, the heart isn’t saying that Beauty Generation will complete the fairytale ending – but the head certainly is.
John Moore will relocate back to his native Sydney at the end of the season and join forces with his brother Gary, who himself is a leading trainer in New South Wales. He could still take Beauty Generation Down under for one last season with retirement the only other option it would appear.
Despite being a Group One winner this year, it’s hard to make a case that he is as good as he once was. The first chink in the armour came in October when he tasted defeat for the first time in 10 starts. Three more defeats would follow, all of those at the hands of his biggest rival this Sunday, Waikuku. The Chairman’s Trophy from three weeks ago is at the forefront of my mind as Beauty Generation did nothing extraordinary in winning, but Waikuku’s run showed some big red flags.
Waikuku has a performance in him to become one of the world’s best milers, but the chances of it happening on are too far-fetched. His trainer John Size believes Waikuku was still feeling the effects of a tough campaign before his mid-season break. His form last season tailed off in April after an equally tough and we may have to wait until the after the summer to see the real Waikuku again.
A win for the battle-hardened Beauty Generation would put him at the front of the queue for an unprecedented third win in that category. Whatever his next chapter entails, a Sunday victory would be the most fitting send off for a legend of the Hong Kong turf.
I’m not breaking any ground suggesting Exultant will be very hard to beat here. Perhaps the only man who can get him beat is jockey Zac Purton. Just the seven runners turn up and when you compare their quality to last year’s field, it’s very easy to see why he’s expected to get the job done.
Time Warp is as unpredictable as the weather, Eagle Way has a serious wind issue and is on the verge of retirement, Furore flatters to deceive as sure as the sun rises. The lack of pace in the race is the only potential bump in the road for Exultant. Last time in the Gold Cup, Purton, along with the rest of the jockeys, was caught napping.
Time Warp, who simply has to lead at all costs, did just that, with no pressure on Joao Moreira, leading to Exultant flying home late on for a half-length defeat. Exultant isn’t quick enough to get away with those tactics over 1m 2f and the responsibility lies solely with Purton to ensure this doesn’t happen.
He’s drawn next to Time Warp, who has a free path to the lead. Follow him and he’s more than good enough to pick him up. Repeat last time and there’s trouble on the horizon again. The only other horse worthy of a mention is Playa Del Puente, another former Mick Halford-trained runner like Exultant. He sprung a huge surprise when finishing second in the Derby last month on his first go at the trip.
He had the run of the race and was flattered by the result but is the only other runner with Time Warp and Exultant that should be prominent, with Blake Shinn likely to be aggressive on him from stall 7. I’d also give him some scope for improvement going up in trip and that may have been overlooked in the aftermath of his Derby run.
That said, this is Zac Purton’s race to lose. Exultant is the best horse in this and here’s hoping he’ll make it count this time around.
As ever the Group 1 races aren’t the only circus in town and the rest of the card has plenty of competitive handicaps.
The final race on the card (10:50) looks like Butterfield’s for the taking. He finished an agonisingly close second after a rough passage on his last start and to my eye his mark of 94 is still very fair for a horse of his ability.
The only other horse I took out of the card was Beauty Smile in the 8:25. Word of caution: this is a red-hot handicap, but Beauty Smile should go very well. He ran a really taking race here a couple of weeks ago and definitely looked like one that would appreciate a mile which he gets on Sunday.
*Prices correct at time of posting but are subject to change