Sha Tin’s card on Sunday (7 January) shaped as a preview meeting for the Hong Kong Classic Mile, the first leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series on 21 January. It delivered in spades as a number of gallopers booked their spots in the HK$10 million feature.
Trainer John Size already has nominal favourite Nothingilikemore heading for the Hong Kong Classic Mile, but the wins of Ping Hai Star in the Class 3 Orchid Handicap (1400m) and Time To Celebrate in the Class 2 Violet Handicap (1600m) – both with Joao Moreira in the saddle – had plenty speculating about classic aspirations.
However, the champion trainer suggested that only Time To Celebrate would head in that direction after his half-length victory as 2.9 favourite in the closer, a race that last produced the Hong Kong Classic Mile winner with Beauty Only in 2015.
“That win takes Time To Celebrate a little higher up in the ratings so I will enter him for the feature races and see if he is well enough to take part in the Classic Mile,” Size said. “He grinds away rather than dashes, but he’s obviously got a little bit more in him because his win rate is so good. We just have to take him towards the other races and see if he’s good enough to get some prizemoney.
“His rating suggests he hasn’t got a winning shot but he can earn some money for the owner.”
Ping Hai Star dazzled with his last-to-first victory, weaving through the field after missing the start by three lengths to defeat Frankie Lor-trained Simply Brilliant by a half-length. For Size, though, the son of Nom Du Jeu is best suited to sprinting trips at this stage of his career.
“He jumped to the left and for some reason, he wasn’t interested early – he just didn’t want to take part,” Size said. “But then Joao has shaken him up, got him interested in the event and away he went. He looks like a sprinter on that, so I will think about where to go next but the Classic Mile isn’t likely.”
Earlier, Lor produced his own Hong Kong Classic Mile contender in Morethanlucky, who won his fourth race of the season in the Class 3 Heather Handicap (1600m) under Karis Teetan to stamp his credentials for the feature.
“I will talk to Karis tonight, but my feeling is that I will enter him for the Classic Mile tomorrow,” Lor said after the son of Per Incanto won by a length and three-quarters. “I wanted to wait and see how he did today, but after that, I think he has earned his spot in the field. He’s just kept improving and he has become stronger, and I think he still has more to come.
“I think he can step up to 1800m and even 2000m, especially against four-year-olds when anything can happen, but the Classic Mile looks a good race for him. As long as his form holds, he will probably run.”
Entries for the Hong Kong Classic Mile close on Monday (8 January).
Hong Kong’s champion jockey Moreira rides top-rated Nothingilikemore in the Hong Kong Classic Mile, but he says he is wary of a number of his rivals after Sunday’s action.
“It’s shaping up as a very competitive race,” Moreira said. “Time To Celebrate has improved so much that he can’t be overlooked, the horse that was third in that race along the outside rail (Doctor Geoff) looks to be coming good at the right time and even Frankie’s horse (Morethanlucky) is racing well. And there are more horses that didn’t race today, of course.
“It’s going to be an exciting race, that’s for sure. I am looking forward to it.”
The Hong Kong Classic Mile is the first leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series. It is followed by the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) on 18 February, with the series culminating in the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) on 18 March.
Moreira and Teetan both rode doubles at Sha Tin on Sunday, as did Frenchman Alexis Badel, but riding honours went to Zac Purton, who produced a treble from the first six races.