It’s a long road – more a mountain trek – from a Class 2 dirt handicap at Sha Tin to the US$10m Group 1 Dubai World Cup (2000m) at Meydan on 31 March, but trainer Chris So said that he would give Classic Emperor every chance to qualify for the rich feature after his gutsy win in the Hong Kong Shipowners Association 60th Anniversary Cup Handicap (1650m) on Saturday (13 January).
Ridden by Keith Yeung, Classic Emperor (131lb) took his domestic rating into triple figures for the first time with his half-length win over John Moore-trained Beauty Prince (120lb). The final time of 1m 37.34s was the fourth fastest 1650m win over the Sha Tin all-weather track in the last decade.
“Now that he has won, we can sit down and see what the next plan is,” So said. “The owner has told me he is very interested in Dubai, so we will plan for his next run now, ideally over there. In Hong Kong, there are no more options for him now on dirt with his rating over 100 so we have to look elsewhere.
“The World Cup is really strong, it is world class, but I hope we can get in – although we would have to do a lot of things before that to even qualify. Even if not, there are plenty of races for him at a mile that will hopefully be suitable, and not just on the main night itself.”
So had his first overseas experience with sprinter Fabulous One at the Dubai World Cup Carnival last year and believes that the lessons he learnt will prove beneficial in 2018.
“With Fabulous One, it was all a new experience,” So said. “Unfortunately that didn’t end well as he didn’t handle left-handed turns, but I think that knowledge will help me this time around.
“I think Classic Emperor is more suited to travelling overseas, anyway, and especially in Dubai because he is versatile tactically. He can be ridden on the pace, he can sit just behind, he is more adaptable.”
Yeung positioned Classic Emperor just behind a moderate speed one-off the fence. When the pace quickened, the Medaglia d’Oro six-year-old loomed up ominously but unlike his course and distance run two back, when he sprinted away under a light impost of 115lb, he took more time to dispatch of his rivals with 131lb to carry.
“We sat in a comfortable position throughout the race and he travelled smoothly for me throughout,” Yeung said. “I wanted to follow the leaders and it panned out exactly as planned. He really has emerged as a dirt specialist, so I wasn’t surprised at all that he won again like that.”
So said there had been no need to switch to dirt any earlier with Classic Emperor, with the galloper building up a record of four wins and six placings from 25 starts on turf.
“I never needed to do it, he was earning plenty of money on turf,” he said. “I knew the pedigree showed that he would be good on dirt, but he was doing the job on turf. Obviously, we know now he’s a very good horse on dirt. The first win surprised me, but now nothing surprises me with him.”