IT'S a long road – more a mountain trek – from a Class 2 dirt handicap at Sha Tin to the US$10 million G1 Dubai World Cup (2000m) at Meydan on 31 March, but trainer Chris So said that he would give Classic Emperor every chance to qualify for the rich feature after his gutsy win in the Hong Kong Shipowners Association 60th Anniversary Cup Handicap (1650m).
Ridden by Keith Yeung, Classic Emperor (131lb) took his domestic rating into triple figures for the first time with his half-length win over John Moore-trained Beauty Prince (120lb). The final time of 1m 37.34s was the fourth fastest 1650m win over the Sha Tin all-weather track in the last decade.
“Now that he has won, we can sit down and see what the next plan is,” So said. “The owner has told me he is very interested in Dubai, so we will plan for his next run now, ideally over there. In Hong Kong, there are no more options for him now on dirt with his rating over 100 so we have to look elsewhere.
“The World Cup is really strong, it is world class, but I hope we can get in – although we would have to do a lot of things before that to even qualify. Even if not, there are plenty of races for him at a mile that will hopefully be suitable, and not just on the main night itself.”
So had his first overseas experience with sprinter Fabulous One at the Dubai World Cup Carnival last year and believes that the lessons he learnt will prove beneficial in 2018.
“With Fabulous One, it was all a new experience,” So said. “Unfortunately that didn’t end well as he didn’t handle left-handed turns, but I think that knowledge will help me this time around.
“I think Classic Emperor is more suited to travelling overseas, anyway, and especially in Dubai because he is versatile tactically. He can be ridden on the pace, he can sit just behind, he is more adaptable.”
Yeung positioned Classic Emperor just behind a moderate speed one-off the fence. When the pace quickened, the Medaglia d’Oro six-year-old loomed up ominously but unlike his course and distance run two back, when he sprinted away under a light impost of 115lb, he took more time to dispatch of his rivals with 131lb to carry.
“We sat in a comfortable position throughout the race and he travelled smoothly for me throughout,” Yeung said. “I wanted to follow the leaders and it panned out exactly as planned. He really has emerged as a dirt specialist, so I wasn’t surprised at all that he won again like that.”
So said there had been no need to switch to dirt any earlier with Classic Emperor, with the galloper building up a record of four wins and six placings from 25 starts on turf.
“I never needed to do it, he was earning plenty of money on turf,” he said. “I knew the pedigree showed that he would be good on dirt, but he was doing the job on turf. Obviously, we know now he’s a very good horse on dirt. The first win surprised me, but now nothing surprises me with him.”
Later in the card, Danny Shum-trained Pick Number One maintained his unbeaten record on dirt when winning the Class 3 Oak Maritime Handicap (1200m) under Zac Purton.
Pick Number One took his career record to three wins, all on dirt, from four starts on both surfaces when scoring a three-quarter length victory. However, Purton thinks the three-year-old might be in need of a break now.
“He’s done a good job to come as far as he has, but quite possibly he’s at the end of it,” Purton said. “There was a lot more pressure in the race today, he was a little bit uncomfortable on the corner so he’s done well to balance himself up again and find like he did. However, he was gassed on the line.”
Shum indicated that a spell would be on the cards for Pick Number One (126lb), with the handler slightly disappointed by the Darci Brahma gelding’s win over Chung Wah Spirit (130lb).
“He’s a nice horse but it is a little bit disappointing, I thought he would’ve won a bit easier,” the trainer said. “I spoke to the owner, and we’d like to give him a six to eight week break and freshen him up.”
Pick Number One was one of two promising three-year-olds ridden by Purton, with the Australian rider partnering unbeaten galloper Lean Perfection to his second win in the Class 4 Great Harvest Group Handicap (1200m).
“He’s been working really well,” Purton said. “I was caught wide without cover but they really slowed up in the middle of the race so it actually helped my cause to a certain extent. When I clicked him up, he showed a good turn of foot and he has a nice will to win – he has plenty of scope.”
The other jockey to score a double on the card was Pierre-Charles Boudot.
The Frenchman scored his first Sha Tin win aboard Shum’s G-One Union in the opener, the Class 5 Hong Kong Shipowners Association Handicap (1400m).
He then quickly made it a double in the following race when steering David Ferraris-trained Ambitious Heart – the younger brother of Shum’s stable star Seasons Bloom – to a narrow victory in the Class 4 Wah Kwong Maritime Transport Handicap (1400m).
“This is a very good rider, very strong – there’s something very much like Christophe Soumillon with Pierre-Charles,” Ferraris said. “Plenty of similarities. It was a tremendous ride, he got him into a tremendous spot and it was great to watch.”
Racing returns to Happy Valley on Wednesday night (17 January) before the first leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, the Hong Kong Classic Mile, next Sunday (21 January).