Jockey Karis Teetan believes that Wishful Thinker has what it takes to get to stakes company this preparation, with the Richard Gibson-trained gelding set to tackle Sunday’s Class 2 Woodpecker Handicap (1000m) at Sha Tin.
Wishful Thinker, who won two of his first six starts in Hong Kong last season, stepped out for the first time this term in the Class 1 HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup Handicap (1200m), the traditional season opening feature. Despite finding himself 11 pounds out of the handicap, carrying 113lb when he would have carried 102lb under a true spread, the I Am Invincible five-year-old ran home solidly for third behind Winner’s Way, indicating to Teetan that he could potentially be a Group-class sprinter by season’s end.
“I think he can make the grade,” Teetan said at Sha Tin on Friday morning (14 September). “Even last time, when he stepped up to Class 1 company, he was competitive even though he was so far out of the handicap. He’s got the ability for it and I think he’s still got improvement left in him.
“Last time out, he came out nicely and he got a nice position, we were trying to ride him closer. I think we know now though that’s not the way to ride him. The horse of Caspar’s (Southern Legend) came off the rail and after that my horse wasn’t travelling and when he doesn’t travel, you can’t keep him balanced so he needs to be on the bridle, nice and comfortable. If you let him relax, he’s capable of showing that amazing turn of foot he has.”
Wishful Thinker wins on Champions Day last season, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Wishful Thinker returns to Class 2 company for Sunday’s assignment, but also drops to 1000m – a distance over which he has not been tested since a midfield debut effort in a two-year-old maiden at Mornington in Australia.
“For me, the 1000m is way too short for him but there is a lot of speed in the race too,” Teetan said. “If you leave him alone, I expect him to be flying home as fast as you can imagine because they will have gone so fast. The straight will suit too because he is just able to keep nice and balanced, if you look at his trial at the pre-season carnival he was cantering behind them and he came home nicely.”
Wishful Thinker (132lb) has drawn gate 10 over the straight course on Sunday.
One of the more intriguing runners is the Caspar Fownes-trained Montreal (122lb). The Lonhro five-year-old was victorious over this course and distance in May, but he produced what was deemed by the stewards as an “unacceptable performance” when stepping up to 1200m in June. Zac Purton, who has been aboard at all three of his starts to date, will ride once again.
“I think that he had a heart arrhythmia last time out,” Purton said. “He wobbled up the straight and at one point I thought he was going to fall over passing the winning post, I hopped off him and led him back. By the time we got back, though, his heart was in rhythm, so whatever happened, I’m not entirely sure but it wasn’t a good effort.
“He’s been to the trials a couple of times here and they’ve been OK, but I feel that he was trialling better last season heading into his first run here. Still, he returns to the 1000m. Getting him back to a track and distance where he has been successful and where he has some confidence will hopefully produce his best. Around the corner, he just wants to grab the bit and do too much at the moment.”
Another lightly-raced galloper making his seasonal debut is the Benno Yung-trained Cruising (119lb), who finished second on debut in June before producing a dominant win in July. Both of those starts were over 1200m, but the Danerich four-year-old steps back to 1000m fresh – a trip that jockey Umberto Rispoli believes will prove too sharp.
“It’s a very tough race and, for me, he’s a horse who will develop into a 1400m type, maybe even a miler – he looks a potential Classic Mile horse come January,” Rispoli said. “There are a few horses that will go forward so it’s going to be hard to end up in a good spot from gate one. I trialled him the other day and he didn’t show me the same speed that he had last season, I think he’s lost a bit of his brilliance. Whatever he does on Sunday, he will improve a lot and, later in the season, you will see a nice horse.”
Others in the 14-horse line-up include California Fortune (132lb), fourth in the HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup fresh, as well as course and distance winners Baltic Whisper (129lb), Bravo Watchman (127lb), Saul’s Special (123lb) and Mr Lumieres (121lb). Also stepping out is debutant War Room (118lb), unbeaten from three starts in Western Australia; the four-year-old is a first Class 2 runner for freshman trainer Jimmy Ting.
The Woodpecker Handicap concludes Sunday’s Sha Tin meeting at 5.45pm, with the opener, the Class 4 Cuckoo Handicap (1000m), set to begin the card at 1pm.