When champions wane and retire, the voids they leave behind must be filled and in Sunday’s (19 November) HK$4 million G2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile (1600m) at Sha Tin, a handful of rising stars will attempt to push their way into the space vacated by Able Friend’s retirement earlier this year.
By the time Hong Kong’s all-time highest-rated horse ran his final race last February, Beauty Only and Helene Paragon had emerged as the mile division’s leaders, with the former claiming the Champion Miler crown. That pair faces a challenge this term from the rising stars out of last year’s four-year-old crop, and, so far, Seasons Bloom, Beauty Generation and Western Express are leading the assault.
Seasons Bloom, runner-up to the late Rapper Dragon in last term’s Hong Kong Classic Mile, set a benchmark early in this campaign. Danny Shum’s charge stepped out on the season’s opening day with an impressive Class 1 win at 1200m under Joao Moreira. The Australian import followed that with second place in a talent-packed edition of the G3 Celebration Cup Handicap (1400m) back on 1 October.
“It’s very smart of Danny to have given him a nice space between runs. I think the horse will appreciate that and it will show in the race,” Moreira said.
The front-running Beauty Generation took the Celebration Cup, a length and a half ahead of Seasons Bloom. But Moreira’s mount conceded 8lb to the winner that day and the jockey expects a bold showing in Sunday’s set-weights Group 2.
Beauty Generation wins the G3 Celebration Cup. Seasons Bloom finishes second.
“This is Seasons Bloom’s first hard test,” he said. “So far he’s done very well, he’s faced some of these horses and beaten them; now he’s facing a few others that will make it a bit tougher but I believe he’s up to the competition.
“I can’t say he’s going to win because he’s against some very good horses but he’ll be right there. Whoever wants to win will definitely have to bring their very best because I’m sure he’s in good form. I galloped him the other day and he gave me such a great feeling.”
Beauty Generation was behind Seasons Bloom when third in last season’s Hong Kong Classic Mile, but finished one place ahead when filling the same berth in the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m). The bay subsequently scored a Class 2 win at 2200m but has found improvement this term, making the running back down in distance.
Last time out, on 22 October, John Moore’s charge added a win in the G2 Sha Tin Trophy Handicap (1600m) to give him a two from two return this term.
“Beauty Generation is just a different horse this season,” Moore said. “We changed the riding tactics and brought him back in trip and he’s really proving to be a force they all need to reckon with. He’s absolutely thriving at present.
“The horse is jumping out of his skin. He’s just come on so much from his first season in Hong Kong. He’s settled in and he’ll be in the firing line on Sunday. He’ll be close again.”
Western Express was found wanting when he stepped into the Four-Year-Old Classic Series in February, finishing 12th in the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m), in which Seasons Bloom was third and Beauty Generation an off-key 11th. But John Size’s charge won two Class 2 handicaps immediately afterwards and took his season’s tally to four from nine.
The chestnut has warmed up through three runs this campaign, running eighth in the Celebration Cup, improving to a closer fifth in the Sha Tin Trophy and then nailing a win in the Class 1 Panasonic Cup Handicap (1400m) last Saturday (11 November). Moreira was in the plate for the last two of those runs but Sam Clipperton takes over for this weekend’s test.
Western Express wins the Panasonic Cup with Joao Moreira on board.
“I’m not riding him just because I was already booked for Seasons Bloom,” Moreira said, “but Western Express and the horse I’ll ride, the form shows that there’s not much between them. Even their first race in Hong Kong, they raced against each other. Western Express had a lot of luck and the other had not so much. They’ve both kept on rising up, and, in my opinion, they’re both chances on Sunday.
“Western Express needs to lift a bit more, but I believe he can – I would never doubt what John Size is capable of,” he said.
Clipperton liked what he saw in Western Express’s narrow win last start.
“I was taken by his performance the other day, he was tough all the way to the line,” he said. “That’s him though, he never wins his races by any great margin but he’s all heart, he finds a lot.
“There’s no doubt that he’s got the talent, he’s shown that in many of his starts. He’s on an upward spiral and I’m hopefully getting on at the right time. It’s of course very tough for him, he’s racing against top-liners, but he deserves his chance.”
The 12-runner G2 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club Mile features G1 winners Beauty Only and Helene Paragon, as well as G1-placed Joyful Trinity and another smart young gun in Winner’s Way.