Race of the Week 2017

Purton says Kong Kong Gold Cup entrant Beauty Only wants firm ground

Beauty Only_Hong Kong Mile 2016_615x400
Photo: Hong Kong Jockey Club

With Hong Kong in the grip of a murky, cloud-covered cold snap, Zac Purton is crossing his fingers that any rain will remain locked overhead, at least until Beauty Only has had his chance to break the gloom in Sunday’s (26 February) HK$10 million G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m). According to the weather forecast, rain patches are a possibility across the weekend.
 
“It’s not going to be ideal if it rains. He’s better on a firmer track, so we don’t want the rain to come,” the jockey said this morning (Friday, 24 February) before heading out into a chilly breeze for a bracing barrier trial session.
 
If the showers stay away, Beauty Only has only to contend with a distance at which he has never before won, and the matter of six talented rivals. Among the sextet are reigning Horse of the Year Werther, and the street-fighter of a former champion that has made this race his own for the past two years, Designs On Rome.
 
“There’s a question-mark about the distance, his better form has been at a mile but I just feel like he’s a more mature horse at the moment,” Purton said of Beauty Only.
 
The gelding’s trainer, Tony Cruz, added: “He’s losing his early speed, so we thought we’d give the longer distance a try this time and we know he’s run well at the trip once before. He’s got real class this horse, so hopefully that helps him stretch out.”
 
That class took the six-year-old to victory in December’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile, but the son of Holy Roman Emperor’s three attempts at 10 furlongs have yielded a form line that reads sixth, third, eighth. However, the view that his opponents may not be at the peak of their powers, with Werther second-up off an injury lay-off, and both Designs On Rome and Blazing Speed entering the veteran stages of their careers, has prompted connections to revisit.
 
“It looked like it was a weaker race than what we would normally get, so that gives him the opportunity to try this distance again. Hopefully, he can handle it,” Purton said. “He had an excuse at 2000 metres when he performed poorly here the last time he tried it; he was made use of early to be in a position, and that just backfired on them.”
 
That back-fire came in the 2015 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup, a below-expectations effort that followed a fine third under Gerald Mosse in the G2 Jockey Club Cup at the course and distance three weeks prior.
 
“The time (Gerald) Mosse rode him and gave him a chance, he really rocketed to the line well. He only has to reproduce that and he’s going to be thereabouts anyway,” the former champion jockey added.
 
And Purton notes one factor that he believes should work in Beauty Only’s favour: his mount’s trademark acceleration.
 
“You’d think Beauty Only’s got the best turn-of-foot in the race, and you know, he showed he had a good set of lungs in the Hong Kong Mile, which gives me some confidence that he can run the trip,” he said.
 
“It’s hard to see them rolling along, given the small field that we’ve got and the lack of natural leaders. But we can’t worry about that. I know that he’s got a very good turn-of-foot, and if it had to be a sit-and-sprint, it might play into my hands. It would give my horse the chance to run the distance anyway.
 
“You’d think that the race is going to change complexion from the half-mile because you know Tommy’s (Berry) not going to sit back there on Designs On Rome, knowing how he likes to ride that horse. I’m expecting a mid-race move and it’s going to change things very quickly, and hopefully we can just cope with that when it happens and run home strongly,” Purton said.
 
The G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup also features the Dennis Yip-trained Secret Weapon, successful in November’s G2 Jockey Club Cup and second to Maurice in the G1 Hong Kong Cup. Flame Hero and Basic Trilogy complete the line-up.
 
The Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup is the second leg of the Hong Kong Triple Crown. Helene Paragon won the initial leg, the G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) at Sha Tin in January, and the concluding leg is the G1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup over 2400m in May.
 
Sunday’s 10-race card also features the HK$ 10 million G1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) in which G1 winners Able Friend, Helene Paragon and Contentment will lock horns.

Freedman fits the bill and is ready for the Hong Kong challenge
 
Michael Freedman was at Sha Tin racecourse this morning (Friday, 24 February) to meet local media, one week on from last Friday’s announcement that the Sydney-based trainer will join the Hong Kong ranks in July, working out of the Olympic Stables complex.
 
The Australian handler, who was a key cog in the Freedman family’s elite training set-up before enjoying eight successful years under his own name in Singapore, thanked the Hong Kong Jockey Club for the opportunity to fulfil a career aspiration.
 
“It’s been a long-held ambition of mine to come to Hong Kong and train,” he said. “I’ve been a fan of Hong Kong racing for a number of years and in my eight years in Singapore I was always extremely interested in what was going on here -  I would watch the racing most Wednesdays and Sundays and I’ve always listened out for any opportunity to train here.”
 
Despite that ear-to-the-ground approach, Freedman, 48, admitted that the call from the Hong Kong Jockey Club was unexpected, but also affirmed that there had been no hesitation in accepting the offer.
 
“I was a little surprised but very pleased when I got the call several weeks ago with the opportunity to at least throw my hat into the ring,” Freedman said, explaining that last year’s return to his native Australia had, in his mind, lessened the likelihood of a Hong Kong call-up.
 
“It’s fair to say I thought it would be less likely,” he said. “I hadn’t given up hope but I probably thought that making the move back to Australia would be my last. And I approached it in that way as well. It was a big move to go back to Australia and reboot, but obviously when the opportunity was put in front of me it didn’t take too long to say yes. I’m looking forward to coming here and getting stuck into it later in the year.”
 
Freedman saddled 470 winners during his time in the Lion City, at a 15 percent strike-rate, and enjoyed Group 1 successes with the likes of Singapore’s two-time Horse of the Year Super Easy, Raffles Cup-winning trio Cheyenne Dancer, Always Certain and Super Ninetyseven, and Singapore Gold Cup hero Tropaios; and in 2011 his Better Be The One was a close third in Dubai’s G2 Al Quoz Sprint. He has maintained that wins to runs ratio since returning to Australia and has enjoyed smart successes with Teaspoon in the G3 Widden Stakes and Frolic in the recent Inglis Classic.
 
Hong Kong’s newest recruit recognises the tough, competitive nature of Hong Kong racing but believes that his experiences in Singapore and Australia will serve him well.
 
“I’m very mindful of how competitive it is here in Hong Kong,” he said. “There are some outstanding trainers and the standard of horse is just getting better - I hope to put myself in a position to contribute to that.
 
“My game plan, to some degree, will be to access horses from back in Australia and New Zealand, but they won’t be the only places I’ll be looking. I have some very good contacts in the northern hemisphere and I’ll certainly be using those contacts to try and access some of the best horses from up there, hopefully with the support of some strong owners in Hong Kong. One of my biggest successes in Singapore was winning the Gold Cup with Tropaios, an import that had won a Listed race in France, so the concept of getting fresh stock out of Europe is not foreign to me.”
 
And Freedman, who revealed that he will be spending much of his time at Sha Tin from early April, believes also that his experiences in Singapore have placed him in a good spot ahead of the transition to Hong Kong.
 
“From a training perspective, I expect quite a few similarities between training in Singapore and training in Hong Kong,” he said. “The nuances of that are probably slightly different to training in Australia. The horses, naturally, are under a little bit more pressure in these environments and so I’m hoping that having done eight years in Singapore under those sorts of conditions will stand me in good stead.”
 
Andrew Harding, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Executive Director, Racing Authority, highlighted the world-class standards that prevail in Hong Kong racing and expressed the Club’s confidence that Freeman can uphold them.
 
He said: “In January, the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities published the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings for 2016 and 26 horses, a record for Hong Kong, were in that list. That figure tells us two things: the first is that any trainer coming into the Hong Kong roster is coming in to compete against the best - this is an ultra-competitive environment; also, it tells us that we want, in terms of a new entrant, someone who can contribute to what we’ve already achieved in terms of world-class racing and help us be propelled to even greater heights. The Club is extremely confident that Michael Freedman can do both of those things.
 
“If you look to Michael’s record in terms of statistics: his tally of Group-race wins, his strike-rate during the eight years that he was in Singapore and during the time he’s been back in Sydney, these things speak for themselves,” Mr. Harding continued. “If you consider what he’s done in terms of adapting so successfully to new environments, starting from the ground and working his way very quickly to the top, he’s shown he can do that. He’s a proven performer in that regard.
 
“What he’s been able to do in terms of building a very strong and loyal owner base and assisting them in sourcing good horses from across the world that he’s then taken on to success, again, he’s a proven performer. When you consider all these things and you take into account also his impeccable integrity and probity, we have in Michael Freedman someone who will make an extremely strong contribution to Hong Kong racing.”
 
Freedman’s licence to train in Hong Kong will come into effect on Monday, 17 July.
 
Source: The Hong Kong Jockey Club

 

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