French hopes of a victory in the G1 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2000m) with Dicton are rising and not only because the colt from a relatively little known yard internationally has travelled well and, according to Sha Tin work watchers, appears to be relaxed and settled during his morning track work at Sha Tin.
To win the most historic marquee race in the Hong Kong calendar a horse must bring strong form lines to the table and in that respect Olivier Peslier’s mount meets every requirement.
In Sunday’s highlight he must show that on a return to a longer distance he can live up to the meaning of his name: “an expression whose meaning cannot be determined from its context.”
Six victories from 15 career starts paints quite an impressive picture but just as important to the Lawman colt’s profile is the range of distances he has competed over.
On seven occasions he has tackled the 1600m, and on another five at about1400m. But trainer Gianluca Bietolini’s trump card could be what happened when Dicton stepped up to 2100m for the prestigious Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly last June.
As a precursor to the equally renowned Prix Jacques le Marois, Dicton raised his game to finish third, just three and a quarter lengths in the wake of Almanzor who went on to become the highest rated horse in Europe with victories in the G1 Irish Champion Stakes (2000m) and the G1 Champion Stakes (2000m) at Ascot, on each occasion beating Arc winner Found.
Starting 10/1 in a field of 16 for the Jockey Club at Chantilly, Dicton never really looked like upsetting the Rouget colossus that is Almanzor, but he kept on strongly, begging the question: why has the colt never returned to the trip of the QEII that is unanimously regarded as the elite distance in the trip spectrum?
Indeed, York’s G1 Juddmonte International Stakes over an identical trip to the French Derby was last year voted the most high profile race in Europe.
Post Jockey Club it was business as usual for Dicton, who remained on home soil for an equally solid run to hunt up Ribchester in the G1 Prix Jacques Le Marois; a sound sixth in a G2 at the Chantilly Arc fixture rounded off last term and proof positive that he is as good as ever came with a fine second against Jimmy Two Times in a G3 at Saint-Cloud to kick off this season.
His critics will point to the fact that Dicton has not only never raced outside of his native France but will also quite likely encounter quicker ground than ever before, granted that his last three starts have been on European ‘good’ and all his previous races on descriptions ranging from ‘soft’ to ‘heavy’.
From a local perspective, a victory for Dicton would be widely welcomed as Peslier will don the popular silks of Singaporean Robert Ng Chee-siong, chair of the property conglomerate Sino Group whose assets include the Conrad Hotel in central Hong Kong.
Ng spotted Dicton and bought him out of a Saint-Cloud claimer in October, 2015. The upwardly mobile progression of the colt subsequently is testament to the owner’s good eye.
The owner’s faith in Bietolini stems from his admiration of a career both in the saddle and out, as the Italian won more than 100 races as an amateur rider and began training a team of 20 horses at Capannelle Stables at the tender age of 17.
Since 2013, he has been based at the Maisons-Laffitte training complex outside Paris and Dicton provided his first and only Pattern race triumph when landing the G3 Prix de Fontainebleau (1600m) in April last year.
Work watchers at Sha Tin welcomed Dicton as the first international runner to emerge from the quarantine barn on Monday when he engaged in light exercise, completing two laps of the all-weather training track under Aude Duporte.
Bietolini is encouraged that the colt lost 18 kilograms (39.68 pounds) on the journey from France, a normal amount.
Yorkshireman who cut his teeth on Fleet Street in the early Eighties when part of the Press Association's racing team. Spent 12 years as Lambourn correspondent of the Racing Post from its inauguration in 1986 before going freelance. The ensuing period has seen him concentrate on the international racing spectrum, covering the HKIR of which he is a veteran. His other regular overseas projects include 28 Breeders' Cups, the Dubai Carnival and World Cup, the Prix De l'Arc De Triomphe and Deauville Festival. More recently turned his attention to South Africa where he is UK correspondent for Tellytrack and writes a daily column for The Citizen newspaper in Johannesburg. Attends its major racing events the Queen's Plate, Met, Durban July Handicap and Summer Cup, from which he has just returned.