Helene Paragon put together what trainer John Moore described as an “impressive” piece of work at Sha Tin on Thursday morning, three days out from the six-year-old’s attempt at a repeat win in Sunday’s (28 January) HK$10 million Group 1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m).
“When he came back in I just said to Tommy (Berry), ‘impressive’ and he replied, ‘impressive’, so that sums it up – we couldn’t be happier with the horse,” Moore said.
The Polan entire moved sweetly under Berry behind his lead horse, Harbour Master, quickening easily down the home straight to edge ahead at the finish. The work was a marked improvement on the bay’s lacklustre final gallop before last month’s Group 1 Hong Kong Mile in which he went on to finish third behind stablemate Beauty Generation.
“That was much more enthusiastic work than before the international race – he just quickened to the lead horse and got there on the bridle,” Moore said after Helene Paragon had clocked 1m 22.3s (29.5s, 28.0s, 24.8s) for 1200m on the turf course.
The crack miler was fresh as he walked back to the unsaddling yard, giving the impression that he is coming to hand much as he did around this time last season when he placed second in the 2016 Hong Kong Mile and then followed up with wins in the Stewards’ Cup and Group 1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) a month later.
Moore has tweaked Helene Paragon’s programme this time around, sliding in another race between his placing in the Hong Kong Mile and Sunday’s feature – a fine third in the Group 3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m) on New Year’s Day. On that occasion, the European import conceded 20lb to the winner, the re-opposing Fifty Fifty, and was beaten only a length and a quarter.
“His frame of mind has been really good since the Hong Kong Mile and you saw that in his good run last start,” Moore said. “Tommy’s been on him most mornings and he says every day he’s been a delight to ride. He’s enjoying what he’s doing, he couldn’t be any fitter and he’s definitely the horse they all have to beat.”
Helene Paragon was the first of Moore’s Stewards’ Cup candidates to gallop across Sha Tin’s floodlit turf. The pre-dawn workouts continued with Beauty Generation alongside Helene Charisma.
The Hong Kong Mile victor put in a solid if laidback shift under big-race jockey Derek Leung, travelling comfortably to his lead horse without passing.
“I’m very pleased with that work, he’s already had four races, he was ready to go early this season and that’s probably why he was more relaxed in his work, it’s to be expected,” Moore said. The duo completed 1200m in 1m 25.8s (29.9s, 32.1s, 23.8s).
Werther and Joyful Trinity wrapped up the Moore stables’ turf gallops with a 1200m hit out in 1m 21.0s (29.2s, 28.7s, 23.1s), the fastest of the three pairings. Hugh Bowman will be aboard Werther on Sunday but this morning Berry was in the irons as the past Horse of the Year crossed the winning line powerfully and without pressure to finish upsides Joyful Trinity.
“Werther looks really good and he could be the knockout horse in the race,” Moore said. “His work into today’s gallop has been really good – Tommy hacks him around the big track and has been very positive about the horse.
“Joyful Trinity had a good blow after that; he has missed a lot of work this season with a splint issue so he’ll be in need of the run to get his fitness up,” he added.
The exciting field of 13 for the weekend’s mile feature also includes last season’s Champion Miler Beauty Only and December’s Group 1 Hong Kong Cup victor Time Warp.
The Stewards’ Cup forms a G1 double-header on Sunday with the Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m), in which Hong Kong’s top sprinters will lock horns, Mr Stunning, D B Pin and Lucky Bubbles among them.