John Moore enters Sunday’s (9 July) Class 2 Pok Fu Lam Country Park Handicap (2000m) with three hopes, including potential 2018 BMW Hong Kong Derby contender Rocketeer. However, it is topweight Helene Charisma who is on notice, with a gelding operation potentially looming for the Group 1 winner before he tackles elite company again next season.
Helene Charisma, winner of the G1 Grand Prix de Paris (2400m) at Saint-Cloud 12 months ago, has not saluted the judge in seven starts in his new home. However, his two efforts over the Sha Tin 2000m have produced two fifth placings, including in the BMW Hong Kong Derby behind stablemate Rapper Dragon, while he is coming off a second in the G3 Queen Mother Memorial Cup Handicap and a fourth in the 28 May G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup, both over 2400m.
“We’ve given him a freshen-up and a trial for this,” Moore said at Sha Tin on Friday (7 July). “He has his good days and his bad days, you can put it that way, but he’s worked well going into the race, everything from the track has been to my satisfaction so maybe Zac (Purton) can get him to put his best foot forward on the weekend.”
Moore indicated that Helene Charisma (133lb), one of only six four-year-olds in Hong Kong who have not yet been gelded, may face the surgeon in an effort to bring out the best of his ability.
“We’re still contemplating whether to geld him,” he said. “It’s not a foregone conclusion as yet but he might not be putting it all in and maybe the gelding might make him a more genuine conveyance. That’s still up in the air, though, I need to speak to the connections. He’s a (Hong Kong) Vase type, so we’ve got big decisions to make before next season.”
Purton will ride the Air Chief Marshal colt for the first time, with regular rider Douglas Whyte instead switching to Rocketeer (123lb). The three-year-old hit his straps at his last start over Sunday’s course and distance, racing clear for a two and a half length win under Whyte, and Moore believes there is more to come from the son of Smart Missile.
“It was a big win last time out,” Moore said. “It’s taken time for him to acclimatise, it’s been quite an environmental shock for him as it can be for some horses. But he turned all that around and his win the other day was the light at the end of the tunnel. He’s a Derby horse for next season and he has very good form in Australia around horses that have come out and won Group 1s so from that point of view, we’re on the right track.
“At the weights, he definitely looks well weighted. Sam (Clipperton) was kind enough to gallop the horse for me in Dougie Whyte’s absence and he said the horse is flying, so we’re going in with very high hopes.”
Rocketeer races in the blue and yellow colours of owner Kevin Hung, whose father Albert won the 2017 Derby with Rapper Dragon. Albert Hung has purchased another potential BMW Hong Kong Derby horse in G1 Queensland Derby (2200m) victor Ruthven.
“Rapper Dragon has set a standard now after sweeping the Four-Year-Old Classic Series,” he said. “Owners and trainers now have to aim to buy horses like that, and we are searching for horses like that all over the world. So far, we have assembled a pretty good brigade of horses for next season – horses like Rocketeer and Ruthven – and hopefully one of them can chase history too.”
As Moore looks to the future, he also prepares to reflect on the past with one of his previous Derby winners, 2014 hero Designs On Rome, to be celebrated with a farewell ceremony at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Designs On Rome’s farewell ceremony will be held between races three and four in the Sha Tin parade ring.
From Hungary to Hong Kong, Sanna searching for success
Last Sunday (2 July), Italy’s former champion apprentice Alberto Sanna was at Budapest’s picturesque Kincsem Park, named for the remarkable Hungarian mare who retired unbeaten after 54 starts.
It was Hungary’s biggest raceday, headlined by the 95th Magyar Derby (2400m), and Sanna had partnered Gabor Maronka-trained Humanic into fourth in the feature behind Sandor Kovacs’ Eminens after leading into the straight.
That night, he received a phone call from Hong Kong Jockey Club Stipendiary Steward & Licensing Committee Secretary Steve Railton that would grant him an opportunity to ride at the final three meetings of the 2016/17 season.
“I was in Budapest and got the call from Mr Railton that invited me to ride in Hong Kong,” Sanna recalled. “I didn’t expect the call, I was very surprised. I had to rush back to Italy to pack all my things, and then I got out here as quickly as I could. I can’t believe I am here now, but I am very happy to be here.”
The 32-year-old Sanna was once Italy’s champion apprentice, while he was also the inaugural winner of the Ribot Cup, a jockeys series for European riders under the age of 25, in 2008. Those early successes led him to try his hand in the Middle East.
“The last four years, I have been based in Qatar, but also riding in Bahrain every week. I was champion jockey in Bahrain, runner-up in Qatar. The season normally finishes in the second week of May, so usually I will ride in Italy and in other places in Eastern Europe until the season starts again in October or November.
“I have never been to Hong Kong before. It is of course difficult to be here because the level of competition is very high, but it is one of the best places in the world for racing. Every jockey wants to come here and ride, so I hope that I get to show my skills in the last three meetings and we will see what happens.
Sanna has five rides on Sunday, including Michael Chang’s griffin Star Of Hong Kong (126lb) – the first Hong Kong-trained son of Japanese stallion Heart’s Cry – in the Chai Wan Road Plate (1200m).
“I don’t know much about the horses I will be riding,” Sanna admitted. “Everything is new, I have to get used to the track, to the different style of races, different tactics. I have to get to know trainers, they have to get to know me, same with the horses. Still, I will give my best.”
Sunday’s meeting begins with the Chai Wan Road Plate for griffins at 12.45pm and concludes with the Class 3 Lei Yue Mun Park Handicap (1400m) at 5.45pm.
Source: The Hong Kong Jockey Club (Andrew Hawkins)