By David Morgan
Blizzard has long been touted as a Group 1 contender and the talented five-year-old looked the part when blowing away six classy rivals to win the G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m) at Sha Tin this afternoon, Sunday, 1 January.
A crowd of 86,606 enjoyed the first of the year’s action, while turnover reached HK$1.577 billion. Both were records for the day.
A first G1 assignment is now on the cards for Blizzard, a horse that displayed plenty of promise when placing third last season in both the Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) and Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m), two of Hong Kong’s three elite four-year-old contests. But trainer Ricky Yiu is in a quandary about which route to take next.
“We’ll definitely be looking at Group 1 races but I don't know which distance – I haven’t really decided where he’ll go next, I need to sit down and talk to the syndicate,” Yiu said, with the G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) later this month and February’s G1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) likely to be under consideration.
“He showed last season that he’s pretty versatile, he ran all the way up to 2000 metres in the Derby and he’s shown his ability at 1400, a mile, 1800 – at this moment, I can't say for sure where I’ll put him next time. We need to sit down and think about it.”
Blizzard was sent off the 2.6 favourite to claim the HK$3 million New Year’s Day feature and back-up from a Class 1 handicap triumph at the course and distance on 11 December. That win came on the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races undercard, roughly half an hour before four of today’s rivals lined up in one of that afternoon’s four majors, the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile.
A rating of 111 put the Starcraft gelding into today’s feature with 121lb on his back, a full 12lb less than top-weights Joyful Trinity (133lb) and Contentment (133lb), third and fourth in the G1 feature three weeks ago. And Yiu is of the view that Blizzard’s Class 1 win last time infused some confidence ahead of today’s G3 test.
“He’s improved, he’s better than last time; you can see that in the style of his win today – the way he did it today was good to watch. He’s always been a lovely horse, he’s always trying to please and that win last time gave him a boost,” he said.
“He’ll go up seven or eight pounds for that win today so he’ll be rated 118 or 119. Before the season started he was rated 105 and I couldn’t believe that. He was better than that rating; I’ve always believed he’s a horse that had the ability to be above 110.”
Joao Moreira settled Blizzard in the final pair as Dashing Fellow cut out the Chinese Club Challenge Cup running under Alexis Badel. After working into contention on the turn, Moreira shifted his mount centre track and, once unleashed, the chestnut quickened to the lead 250m out. The race secured, Blizzard kept on for a length and three quarters score in a time of 1m 21.22s.
Dashing Fellow (119lb) batted to hold second, a half-length in advance of stablemate Joyful Trinity. Trainer John Moore – a three-time winner on the day with Go Beauty Go, King Mortar and Midnight Rattler – was pleased with his placed pair.
“Dashing Fellow’s run well there,” he said. “He was entitled to, given that he was well-weighted and the 1400 is his preferred distance. I don't think he’d have beaten the winner but he was taken on by Racing Supernova at a crucial stage, about 800 metres out, which we didn't expect. He’s just not top level – he’s a solid Group 3 handicapper.
“When we get back to set-weights, we’ll see Joyful Trinity and the others come into their own,” he continued, “but they had a stiff task trying to give that weight to Blizzard today. Joyful Trinity was giving 12lb and he’s only beaten two and a quarter lengths, so that honest run in the Hong Kong Mile has cost him. Blizzard’s good but at level weights he’s going to come back to us.”
Earlier on the card, Dylan Mo started 2017 with a first win in Hong Kong. That came atop Fish N’ Chips in the afternoon’s second race, the Class 4 Grassy Hill Handicap down the 1000m straight. The 10lb claimer returned to his home city last summer after riding 42 winners in South Africa (five) and New Zealand during his compulsory overseas training period. Today’s win came on his 55th Hong Kong ride and provided Almond Lee with the first leg of a quick-fire double.
“He was at the top of the handicap, so Dylan’s 10lb claim brought him down to 123lb and that was a great help,” Lee said. “I was a little worried before the race because he’s better with some give in the ground and I thought it would be too fast for him. He’s a straightforward ride though, and once Dylan got him to the front he did the rest.”
Lee followed up one race later with Wingold (133lb). Zac Purton produced the top-weight from out of a pocket to lead at the 200m mark and the 2.2 favourite quickened away to a length and a quarter success.
That was the first of three wins on the bounce for the former champion jockey, who ended the day with a four-timer. The Australian ace followed up in the next aboard Go Beauty Go and made it a hat-trick in race five after drawing a late dash from the Paul O’Sullivan-trained Star Of Patch. And then the coup de grace, an easy, albeit cheeky, half-length win in race 10 atop the even-money favourite, the Danny Shum-trained Seasons Bloom.
The first success of 2017 went to trainer David Ferraris and jockey Brett Prebble, who teamed up to score in the opener with Rock The Tree.
Hong Kong racing resumes at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 4 January.