In a season of general disappointment for John Moore, Helene Paragon ranks amongst the biggest letdowns. A dual Group 1 winner last year and a contender for 2017 Champion Miler honours, the bay’s efforts this term have fallen short, but the trainer retains faith.
“He’s been disappointing. He’s not hitting the line,” said Moore, who finds himself unusually low in the trainers’ premiership, his 21 wins good only for 15th position.
While it would take much more than one sub-par season to blot Moore’s high reputation as a trainer, Helene Paragon heads into Sunday’s (8 April) Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy (1600m) with his profile needing a buff of polish
Winless through six races this season, the Polan entire’s spark has flickered without igniting – a closing second in the Group 2 Jockey Club Mile, then solid runs when third in both the Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile, and, under top-weight, in the Group 3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m) being the best he could muster.
His last two outings have been flat. Eighth in the Group 1 Stewards’ Cup and seventh in the Group 1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup – a far cry from his fine victories in those heavy-weight contests a year prior.
Moore’s fear is that Helene Paragon has just had enough, that the six-year-old is not the force of yesteryear.
“It’s sort of the old-age spread, isn’t it? I’m just hoping that that’s not the case. He’s showing signs that he might still have something to give,” Moore said.
Not for the first time this season, Helene Paragon has been showing up in his work. Sam Clipperton partnered the European import in his most recent gallop, clocking 1m 25.0s (31.6, 28.1, 25.3) for 1200m on the dirt track last Saturday.
“Sam’s been really happy with Helene Paragon’s work, it’s definitely improved,” Moore said.
Clipperton, seated close by in the shade of a stall, piped in: “It wouldn’t surprise me if he ran very, very well in that race.” The Australian hoop will take the race-ride at the weekend for the first time since October, 2016.
Joao Moreira was in the saddle eight days ago though, when Helene Paragon trialled over 1200m on the dirt track. The Brazilian pushed his mount forward from the gate to position mid-rank and then kept nudging down the straight to finish four and a quarter lengths behind Sunday’s rival, Time Warp.
“He was a little more forward in his barrier trial and that was to make him jump out of the gate because he’s been missing it, but Joao got off and said that although he’d ridden him forward as I’d asked, that’s not the way to ride him in his races; he said he’s a hold up and kick horse,” Moore said.
“He’s not a dirt horse, he doesn’t usually perform well in dirt trials, but that education was important, to jump away with them. If he can do that on Sunday, Sam can be midfield and if his work is any indication we may see some of the old Helene Paragon.”
And Moore has opted for a change of gear, too, dispensing with Helene Paragon’s usual hood in favour of winkers, or cheek-pieces, as they’re also known.
“With the application of the winkers to just focus him that little bit more, we’re expecting him to run a big race. He might have just turned the corner,” the trainer added.
Helene Paragon will face stablemate Beauty Generation, the bright light in Moore’s season of otherwise frustrating outcomes thanks to two Group 1 wins in the Hong Kong Mile and Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup. Both horses are aiming at the Group 1 Champions Mile on 29 April.
As well as the Group 1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup-bound Time Warp and Pakistan Star, the top-class field features that pair’s Tony Cruz-trained stablemate Beauty Only, last year’s Champion Miler and another old-stager seeking to recapture past lustre.
Fifty Fifty, Pingwu Spark, Western Express, Joyful Trinity and Dinozzo complete the exciting line-up.
Sunday’s action also features the Group 2 Sprint Cup (1200m), in which Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) victor Mr Stunning is slated to take on seven others, including stablemates Beat The Clock and Amazing Kids.