Joao Moreira is hoping his decision to side with Beauty Legacy over Champion’s Way in Monday’s Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m), the first leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, will not come back to bite him.
“It was a difficult decision but I can't ride two horses – it could be the wrong one because Champion’s Way has been running well in strong races and there’s no doubt that he needed a couple of runs to bring his best. But I had to make a decision and I hope I didn’t make the wrong one,” the Brazilian ace said at Sha Tin this morning, Friday, 24 January.
Moreira partnered Champion’s Way to four of his six wins last term as the John Size-trained galloper rose to the top of his generation’s pecking order with a G3 win and an end-of-season rating of 108.
But the four-year-old hierarchy has shuffled after his three defeats in as many starts this term, combined with the rise of the Francis Lui-trained duo Golden Sixty and More Than This, and the arrival in the Size yard of the exciting Beauty Legacy. The last-named’s impressive debut win earlier this month, a rare first-up Class 2 victory off a lofty 92 rating, was enough to sway Moreira.
“Beauty Legacy’s win last time was quite impressive and I think very few horses can do what he’s done,” he said. “First-up in Hong Kong, with the rating that he had and the Class he was in, he proved that he could do what few can do.”
Champions Way and Joao Moreira, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
No Hong Kong Classic Mile winner this century has won the race at their second start in Hong Kong, and the memory of another high-class Australian import, Divine Calling, winning first-up under a hold off a mark of 94, placing second in the 2015 Classic Mile at start three and then fading into disappointment is still fresh enough as to be a cautionary tale.
It must also be noted, though, that Helene Mascot, a smart performer in Britain pre-import, won the race on his Hong Kong debut back in 2008. Beauty Legacy is already a G2 winner and G1-placed in Australia and that quality was evident in his sweeping rail-run to victory first-up – as was a hint of what his trainer referred to as “management issues”.
“He’s not perfect yet, he still does things wrong,” Moreira said, but also noted, “he kind of surprised me how quickly he has learned things.
“He’s been working very well, he seems a very healthy horse – I kind of indicated before his first run that we’re still learning about him and he’s still in the learning process but he’s, no doubts, a very talented horse and if he’s able to keep on as he’s been, he’s going to be a very nice horse in Hong Kong.”
Moreira settled Beauty Legacy back in the field on debut and that approach was repeated in a barrier trial on Tuesday (21 January), the aim being to teach the horse to relax when it matters most. With that in mind, the three-time champion jockey is conscious of the challenge he might face in a field of only nine runners.
“The only concern is the pace of the race, which might not be that fast, but we’ve been trying to get him to relax lately and he’s been responding so the key on this race and the races coming forward is to get the horse switched off and just finish off the race,” he said.
“The question mark is, is he going to settle down in a slow run race and if he does I’m quite confident about him.”
Moreira has three Classic Mile wins already in the bag (2014 Able Friend, 2017 Rapper Dragon, 2018 Nothingilikemore). Champion’s Way’s new partner, Karis Teetan, is seeking a first.
And victory on Monday would likely be extra sweet for the Mauritian given his unsought ejection – to be replaced by Ryan Moore – from one of the race’s leading candidates, More Than This, despite having enjoyed a three from three alliance with that horse this season.
Teetan sat on Champion’s Way for the first time when leading home Beauty Legacy (4th) in a 1200m dirt track trial on Tuesday (21 January).
“It was a good trial, John Size just wanted the horse to have a nice trial through and just look after him and make sure he’s ready,” Teetan said.
“It was my first time sitting on him and he gave me a good feel actually, he’s a very strong-bodied horse, there’s lots of him underneath me and I’m looking forward to riding him in the race now.”
Teetan believes the Hinchinbrook gelding still has upside and is expecting a big run in restricted company, having carried big weights in open handicaps so far this campaign.
“What he did last season, not many horses can do and he looks promising still. I just think maybe he was not to where John wanted to have him and he looks like he’s improving with every run this season. After his trial, I think he’ll be competitive, for sure.”
Champion’s Way ran a solid third last time out to the highly-regarded and re-opposing Golden Sixty.
“The horse that stands out is Golden Sixty but I think it’s going to be competitive,” Teetan said. “I think Golden Sixty will have the better of More Than This in the Mile but I think More Than This will be the better of the two going towards the Derby.
“A few horses are going into the race with strong chances but I’m very happy with the ride I’ve got.”
The Hong Kong Classic Mile field also features G1 Irish 2,000 Guineas third Decrypt, Playa Del Puente, Star Performance and the John Moore-trained pair Awe and Buddies.
“Awe is a bit of a dark horse and fractionally disappointing first-up given the talent he’d shown us and amount of work he’d had, even though he wasn’t fully primed. But he got a bump on the corner and was put off his stride – but the jockey reported he was quite green,” Moore said of last year’s Britannia Handicap fourth.
“He’s still a work in progress, he can be fitter and this race will bring him on further. My work riders believe he’s a horse with potential.
Of the possible front-runner Buddies, he said: “I don't think he’s a one trick pony so he could lead or, depending on what the speed map says, he could drop into the box seat, maybe.”
The Hong Kong Classic Mile is the first leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, which continues next month with the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) and concludes on 22 March with the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m).