by David Morgan
Helene Paragon ended last season with a flourish that had trainer John Moore rubbing his hands in anticipation of December’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile. While that HK$23 million feature remains the target, a lacklustre eighth last time out has prompted the handler to veer from plan and pitch his talented entire into Sunday’s (6 November) G3 Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse Handicap (1800m) at Sha Tin.
“It was a little disappointing that he just wasn’t a bit closer last start,” Moore said of the four-year-old’s G2 Sha Tin Trophy (1600m) effort nine days ago. “We’ve decided to run him this weekend because we’re looking for an improved run and hopefully he’ll show us some spark, some impetus going into the race on November 20th (G2 Jockey Club Mile).”
Helene Paragon broke the 1800m track record at Sha Tin with an impressive score in the HKG3 Premier Plate Handicap in June and followed up in July with an exciting 1600m Class 1 victory under top-weight of 133lb, a burden he will shoulder once again on Sunday. But after a summer break, the Polan colt was a moderate 10th first up in the G3 Celebration Cup (1400m) prior to his tepid run latest when five and a quarter lengths behind stable mate Designs On Rome.
“We are still on the right track with him,” Moore asserted. “First start he was underdone, second start I expected him to hit the line a little bit better than he did and he didn’t, so that’s why I’ve added this race to his programme.
“He hasn’t come to himself yet this season,” he continued. “He is an entire but he has never given any indication that that affects him adversely. He’s a lovely horse to deal with, you can do anything with him, so there’s no indication around the stable or on the training track that leaving him an entire may be an issue.
“I’m just looking for an improved run on the weekend and an insight into what we’ll do with him in the future. He holds the track record, so we know he can do it. All being well he’ll take the route to the Hong Kong Mile in December because Able Friend, possibly, will be going for the Sprint in December - that decision is still up in the air until we see how Able Friend progresses.”
A horse that Moore knows is in peak condition is Harbour Master (115lb). The handler gave the two-time course and distance winner a quick back-up to score over 1650m at Happy Valley last Wednesday.
“Harbour Master comes into this off a win and he’s in great heart,” Moore said. “He lost his way a little bit last season but we’ve managed to bring him back online. He’s a fit horse going into the race. He was jumping out of his skin this morning, I saw him having a buck as he went past.
“Happy Valley has that little bit of cushion - remember, he’s a very good dirt horse - so the firmer track here at Sha Tin is the question mark.”
Basic Trilogy (110lb) was only a neck behind Harbour Master at The Valley last time and also heads towards Sunday’s feature in fine fettle. Moore is not too concerned that the gelding’s 100 rating sees him hanging 3lb out of the handicap.
“Basic Trilogy ran a good race last time,” he said. “Joao (Moreira) had ridden him right through and said he just wasn’t at peak fitness. He was right, but I think the horse was a little fitter than he thought he was. There’s some improvement there and with Kei Chiong riding him at the bottom of the handicap on Sunday he’ll have 113lb on his back. He likes to get out and race on-speed or even lead and she seems to have the knack of getting them over the line when they’re ridden that way.”
Moore’s fourth Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse contender is Helene Happy Star (127lb). The five-year-old will step into his second start of the campaign off the back of a ninth-placing in the G2 Sha Tin Trophy.
“Helene Happy Star needs race experience - match practice, as they say,” Moore said. “He’s building into the Hong Kong Vase (2400m) in December and I’m happy with his progress. I’m looking for a good run from him and he’ll be peaking in six weeks’ time. With him and Helene Paragon, it’s about getting them a little more focused.”
The historic Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse has attracted 14 high-class entries, the others being Gun Pit, Secret Weapon, Horse Of Fortune, Flame Hero, Romantic Touch, Helene Super Star, Anticipation, Renaissance Art, Eastern Express and The Alfonso from Macau.
The last-named departed Macau last night (Monday, 31 October) for Hong Kong and trainer Joe Lau reported: “He looked good and overall I am very pleased with him. He won’t be out tomorrow (Wednesday) and will work at Sha Tin on Thursday and Friday morning. I have yet to decide whether we will arrange a more serious gallop for him, it will depend on how he is.”
The Alfonso’s previous Sha Tin visit, in March, saw the gelding storm from the back of the field to finish second in the HKG3 Hong Kong Macau Trophy Handicap (1400m). The six-year-old took the Macau Race Horse Owners Association Cup over 1400m at Taipa in August and has since placed second over 1200m and a long way last over 1500m.
“The track condition didn’t suit him last time, as it was the day after the typhoon (Typhoon Haima) hit Hong Kong and Macau,” Lau said. “Clearly it wasn’t his best but he pulled up well after the race, he ate well and everything was fine. Then I entered him in a barrier trial last Saturday (29 Oct) and he ‘won’ the trial well. I have been pleased with his condition since then and so I decided to run him in Hong Kong this Sunday.”