Eagle Way returns to the scene of an impressive victory in a classy edition of the Class 1 Happy Valley Vase Handicap (1800m) at the eponymous city track on Wednesday, 28 March.
The John Moore-trained galloper has a perfect one from one record at Happy Valley, having carried off the Group 3 January Cup Handicap at the course and distance earlier this year. He held off Hong Kong Derby fifth The Golden Age that time around, with four re-opposing rivals in behind, among them third-placed Dinozzo; the latter has also carried owner Siu Pak Kwan’s red and black silks with distinction this term.
“It was quite a win at Happy Valley, and we played a bit of a guessing game that time because Eagle Way hadn’t trialled or won there before, but he was just too good for them,” Moore said at Sha Tin this morning (Tuesday, 27 March).
The Australian Group 1 winner shouldered top-weight that night and will once again have to lug 133lb, having since finished sixth to Time Warp in the Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m).
Moore is pleased with the chestnut ahead of an assignment that he hopes will put his charge on track for further Group 1 targets in the coming months, the Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (2000m) and the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m).
“He’s done everything right going into this race, I couldn’t be happier,” the handler said. “His work has been very good, he’s a healthy horse and he has a lovely draw (gate 3), too. If he can do what he did there last time, he’s going to be hard to beat.”
Brett Prebble is slated to take the race ride for the first time. The Australian ace got a feel for the More Than Ready gelding through a 1200m all-weather track gallop on Saturday morning, clocking 1m 23.9s (31.7, 28.1, 24.1)
“Zac Purton’s suspended so Prebble galloped him and the feedback was positive,” Moore revealed.
“The weight he has to carry, that’s the one and only concern.”
The John Size-trained Dinozzo (131lb) faces Eagle Way off a 14-point higher rating than when they met in the January Cup, and is 8lb worse off with that rival for a length and a quarter defeat. But the admirable five-year-old has won twice since, a 1650m score at the Valley preceding a career peak win in the Group 3 Centenary Vase Handicap over 1800m at Sha Tin, the latter with Eagle Way back in third.
Last time, in the Hong Kong Gold Cup, the bay was the near-equal of Eagle Way as he finished a close seventh, almost in tandem.
“Dinozzo faced the strongest competition last time and he wasn’t able to match it but back to his class, even carrying one of the top weights, I think he’s going to be right there,” jockey Joao Moreira said.
“He’s been very good to me, I’ve won a couple of races on him including a cup race two starts ago. His trial was very good last week – he gave me as much confidence as a very good horse could give to his jockey.”
The field also features the Tony Cruz-trained Gold Mount (132lb), second in the Centenary Vase and fifth in the Hong Kong Gold Cup, and another with big-race targets in his sights.
Tony Millard’s Group 3 winner Horse Of Fortune (129lb) is a three-time winner at the track, including at the distance, while the Ricky Yiu-trained Packing Dragon’s (121lb) eight course wins include five at this trip. The latter is on a hat-trick.
Macau Hong Kong Trophy (1500m) winner Romantic Touch (124lb), Prawn Baba (113lb), Rocketeer (113lb), Pikachu (113lb) and Happilababy (113lb) complete the line-up.
Moreira banks on Ivictory form with Whip
Moreira will side with the Cruz-trained California Whip (123lb) in the Class 2 Volunteers’ Challenge Cup (1200m) earlier on the card.
“California Whip has been running very well against some really good horses and if he can reproduce that form again he can be right there,” the champion jockey said.
Moreira has ridden the Giant’s Causeway five-year-old twice this term, placing third and second. But last time the rider consigned the chestnut to another runner-up spot when he climbed aboard the exciting youngster Ivictory and showed California Whip a clean pair of heels over the track and trip.
“Ivictory’s a very special horse and I don’t think that was a bad thing for California Whip running second to him last time,” Moreira said.
“This horse has been very lucky with his gates and he has it the same way again (gate 2). I can’t say exactly how I’m going to ride him because I have to hear what the trainer’s going to tell me but there’s a bit of speed in the race and if he can be right there in the first four I think he’s going to be in the strike position.”
California Whip wore blinkers for the first time in the run behind Ivictory and will sport them again on Wednesday night.
“He’s been kind of looking around a little bit in his races and two starts ago when I rode him to second I recommended it to Tony and I’m glad he put them on him, so hopefully we’ll go one better than last time,” he said.
The Volunteers’ Challenge Cup also features the Moore-trained Magic Legend (130lb), top-weight Fabulous One (133lb) from the Chris So stable, and last start winner Fortune Booth (117lb), trained by Michael Freedman.