Racing

Conte's a rising Hong Kong star

Moreira full of praise for the John Size-trained galloper

Conte brought the fireworks to Sha Tin's New Year fixture, landing the Group 3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap over 1,400m in brilliant style on Tuesday afternoon.

The big bay's victory was one of five on the 11-race card for trainer John Size and his stable jockey Joao Moreira, and left the latter enthusing about his mount.

"I'm very excited. I believe we're going to see more upside," the Brazilian said after the five-year-old had stopped the clock at 1min20.85sec, eased down and still only 0.54sec off the track record.

The manner of success, allied to the Starcraft gelding's progressive back story - featuring seven wins now from nine races - set people talking about a possible tilt at Beauty Generation in the Group 1 Stewards' Cup over 1,600m in three weeks' time.

Size has that race on his radar, if not yet locked in. "I'll certainly have to consider it," the champion trainer said.

"I'll weigh it up but he's running out of options and, if he doesn't go there, he stays home in the box."

Tuesday's race was Conte's first at Group level, having scored in Class 2 earlier.

He handled the rise in quality with aplomb, relishing his low weight as he wound up wide on the home turn and quickened smartly from a berth at the handy end of midfield, his raking stride powering through the final 400m in 22.25sec.

"We didn't have in mind to ride him as the race played out," Moreira confessed.

"But I knew things might play out like that and he's always given me the confidence that, if he was ridden like that, he was going to do what he did.

"But what he showed us there exceeded what I expected. His acceleration turning for home - it's outstanding."

So, could Conte be a star in waiting?

"I wouldn't say that yet," Moreira cautioned. "But, if there are horses that are picking up to get there, he would be one of those few.

"I love everything about this horse; his character, his personality, his attitude, his movement; the way he responds when you ask, he just does it for you. What I really love is when you put him under pressure, he may not look like he's dashing but I can tell you, he's going fast.

"Probably because he's big and he's covering lot of ground, it doesn't look as if he's quickening like he is," the rider added.

The Frankie Lor-trained Morethanlucky kept on to finish 3/4 lengths second under Alexis Badel, who said: "The winner has a lot of class and a good turn of foot but my horse kept battling all the way."

Moreira and Size steamed to a five-timer when the four-year-olds Nicconi Express and Waikuku took the last two races,adding to the earlier victories with two more of that age group, Full Of Beauty and Picken. - HKJC

HORSE RACING