Able Friend not fully fit yet
Trainer John Moore has some concerns over his LONGINES Hong Kong Mile contender
ABLE FRIEND elicited nods of endorsement from the early-to-rise watchers at a floodlit Sha Tin on Thursday morning, after an eye-catching gallop down the home stretch, his final fast work before tomorrow's Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile.
The big chestnut spotted his talented stablemate Mr Bogart a good length turning into the straight but was easily on top as the pair flashed past the winning post, with jockey Joao Moreira exerting little pressure and the seven-year-old's ears flicking confidently.
The time for the 1,200m turf gallop was 1min 15.6sec, with sectionals of 13.9sec, 13.4sec, 14.5sec, 12.1sec, 10.5sec and 11.2sec.
"He was impressive in his work this morning," trainer John Moore said.
But the handler, seeking a seventh victory at the HK$83 million ($15 million) LONGINES Hong Kong International Races, is proceeding with caution, his charge having returned to race action only three weeks ago from an 11-month injury lay-off.
"He had a good blow after that gallop but recovered quickly, but Joao did say it was a pity that we didn't get that extra race into him. It was an impressive gallop but Joao was still a little bit reserved.
"The incident in quarantine (fell and injured his hind quarters) delayed his prep and, from the wide gate on Sunday, his fitness will definitely be tested."
Able Friend has drawn barrier 14, widest of all, for tomorrow's Mile.
While the former Hong Kong Horse of the Year was imperious when landing the Mile in 2014 after breaking from gate 10 of 10, Moore believes the scenario this time is significantly different.
"He was a very fit horse two years ago when he won from a wide draw and he was peaking at that time," he explained.
"Able Friend's draw is a grave concern for the simple reason that he's going into the race not 100 per cent fit, in the sense that he missed an intended run going in, so he's had just the one run leading into this race.
"I was hoping for a middle gate and that he could get some nice cover. From gate 14, he's going to come back to the rear of the field and his task is going to be set; with respect to getting home in a very slick sectional time. His fitness is suspect. I'm worried."
Moore was more bullish about HELENE PARAGON who also contests the Mile.
"Hugh Bowman was ecstatic about his work this morning," he said.
"He's drawn the gun gate (5) and he should have won last time," Moore added.
"From that gate, jockey Hugh Bowman will give him a great ride and given clear running in the straight he's one of the horses to beat. Taking into consideration the factors I've spoken about with Able Friend - the poor gate and the fitness query - Helene Paragon would be the pick of my runners in the race."
Moore is relying on DESIGNS ON ROME in the Hong Kong Cup over 2,000m. The gelding landed that prize in 2014 but faces a stiff Japanese challenge this time around, including last year's winner A SHIN HIKARI, and last year's Hong Kong Mile hero MAURICE.
"The Japanese armada is in town," said Moore. "They've come in full force and I take them very seriously." - HKJC