Stablemates Golden Sixty and More Than This will clash again in Sunday’s HK$10 million Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) in what amounts to a battle for pole position on the road to the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m).
Golden Sixty accelerated impressively to win the Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) last month with More Than This a strong-closing second. The weekend’s rematch has shades of the 2014 Classic Cup when Designs On Rome turned the tables on his stablemate Able Friend, which set up an epic head-to-head in that year’s Derby.
The exciting Golden Sixty – beaten only once in nine starts – has since had to overcome a sickness and that setback plus the extra distance of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series’ second leg adds to the intrigue of a fascinating encounter.
Francis Lui remained measured in his appraisal of both his stable stars at Sha Tin this morning (Friday, 21 February).
“Golden Sixty had a temperature two weeks ago so it’s hard to say if he can beat More Than This and the others this time but he galloped this morning with another horse and he seems to be coming back,” the trainer said.
“I’m a little bit worried but he’s been scoped, we’ve kept an eye on his blood count and that’s all fine, he looks like he has recovered quickly.
“He’s going from 1600 to 1800 metres so there are more questions in my mind about Golden Sixty than More Than This for this race, but it’s hard to say what the result will be.”
Golden Sixty winning at Sha Tin, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Lui was satisfied with how his two have worked this past week. While Golden Sixty stretched out with a work companion under regular race rider Vincent Ho this morning, More Than This galloped on his own on Thursday under Zac Purton.
Ho has continued to err on the side of caution when assessing Golden Sixty’s chances of being at enough of a peak to win the Classic Cup just two weeks after he spiked a fever.
“He’s an amazing horse, one of the best I’ve ridden but unfortunately he has had an issue and is still in the process of recovering and getting his fitness back. I don't think he’s at his top at the moment, he’s coming back gradually,” he said.
But Ho was still able to pick out some positives for the Medaglia D’Oro gelding’s first attempt at beyond a mile.
“I’ve worked him on the grass (on Tuesday) and this morning I worked him on the dirt and he still felt okay. It is 1800 metres this time, and from barrier seven I hope to get him relaxed behind horses and then have a good turn-of-foot. I think the probable lack of early tempo should suit him,” he said.
Purton, meanwhile, is looking forward to his first race ride on More Than This. The champion jockey has been on board for four gallops and a barrier trial since Ryan Moore steered the bay to the runner-up berth in last month’s Classic Mile.
“He’s going well – he just went through the paces for me this morning,” the Australian said. “He had a nice gallop on Monday on the grass when he followed another horse; he didn’t join it, it was just giving him something to look at, something to follow.”
The view widely-held is that More Than This will relish the step up in distance while Golden Sixty, the horse with the easy speed and dazzling kick, will be pushing towards his limit, if not beyond.
“Golden Sixty is still the horse to beat if he’s in the same form as last time,” Purton said. “He’s got more tactical speed than my horse and he’s got a better turn-of-foot but I don't see going up to 1800 metres being a problem for him.”
Lui mulled over the stamina question around Golden Sixty and came down on the positive side, for this race at least.
“Looking at how he runs I think he can handle another 200 metres,” he said, while of More Than This he added: “He’s a bit lazy in his track work but in his races he always tries hard in the straight and it looks like the extra distance will help him a lot.”
Purton was undone by gate nine last week when his mount Exultant was unable to peg back the front-running Time Warp and he was not thrilled about More Than This drawing widest of all in gate 10.
“Once again, I’ve drawn a bad gate which makes my life hard again in a race where it doesn't look like there’s much speed to take us along. That’s a concern – when you draw wide in races with no speed it makes it very hard,” he said.
Purton and Ho are looking to bag a first win in Sunday’s feature but they face solid competition, with the John Size-trained pair of Champion’s Way and Beauty Legacy third and fourth in the Classic Mile and primed to challenge.
Beauty Legacy is the mount of premiership leader Joao Moreira who has bagged five G1 wins in Hong Kong this term, while Ryan Moore will fly in to take over on Champion’s Way having lost the ride on More Than This.
The field also includes the John Moore-trained Enjoying, a dual G2 winner in Australia, and Savvy Nine; Playa Del Puente is set to represent the Danny Shum stable, Ricky Yiu will saddle World Famous, Private Secretary will take his chance for the Tony Cruz stable, and Frankie Lor will attempt to follow Mission Tycoon’s win in the race last year with the progressive Reliable Team.