LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m) contender Poet’s Word has taken a route to Group 1 level that is not altogether common in English racing, yet is certainly familiar to those who keep tabs on Sir Michael Stoute’s runners.
The four-year-old’s gradual rise has come via an educational three-year-old season in handicap grades, just when the best of his peers were being pitched into the classic fray. After advancing to place second in two of Europe’s most prominent 10-furlong G1 races this term, the Poet’s Voice colt heads into Sunday’s (10 December) HK$25 million flagship race with a shout at claiming Sha Tin’s richest prize.
“Looking at the race, we think he has a good chance,” owner Saeed Suhail’s racing manager, Bruce Raymond, said from England. “It’s the Hong Kong Cup and it’s over a mile and a quarter, which will suit him – although he does stay very well and keeps going.”
Stoute, Britain’s champion trainer on 10 occasions has, down the years, excelled at developing raw, slow-maturing colts into honed, high-class athletes. Poet’s Word is just the latest.
“Sir Michael wanted to bring him along slowly as he was a bit on the weak side, but as he has got older he has matured into a strong sort of horse,” Raymond said. “I think Sir Michael has always felt this was a horse with plenty of potential and he was lightly-raced coming into this year.”
The 300,000 guineas Tattersalls October (Book 2) yearling, who in May, 2016 broke his maiden at Nottingham on his third career start, three weeks after failing on the Chelmsford Polytrack, is a nod to some of the Freemason Lodge handler’s past heroes; the likes of Pilsudski, Notnowcato and the Hong Kong International Races pathfinder Soviet Line.
As with each of the above, Poet’s Word was a backward juvenile. Not considered close to the three-year-old elite, all developed through the handicap system, finally stepping up to Group company in their four-year-old seasons. Once there, Pilsudski, Notnowcato and Soviet Line, at least, found that G1 success was not far off.
Poet’s Word, like Pilsudski, won a three-year-old handicap at Glorious Goodwood in the high summer of his education. Pilsudski, a giant of international racing in the 1990s, went on as a four and five-year-old to win six G1s, the Japan Cup, Breeders’ Cup Turf, Eclipse Stakes, Champion Stakes and Irish Champion Stakes among them, and was twice runner-up in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – a tough act to follow.
Poet’s Word’s best win to date came in the G3 Glorious Stakes (2398m) at Goodwood this summer, which is a fair way in arrears of Pilsudski’s finest moments. But in his two outings since then he has run second to Decorated Knight and Cracksman, in the G1 Irish Champion Stakes (2000m) and G1 Champion Stakes (1993m). Those efforts suggest he is at least on the right trajectory. Success in this weekend’s HK$25 million showpiece would give Poet’s Word a Group 1 launch.
Victory, also, would be Stoute’s third at the Hong Kong International Races. The first came when Soviet Line won the fore-runner to the LONGINES Hong Kong Mile, the G3 Hong Kong International Bowl (1400m), in 1994; G1 wins followed for the gelding in the Lockinge Stakes in 1995 and 1996.
Soviet Line’s International Bowl win means the Barbados-born cricket lover, who has called England home ever since he joined Pat Rohan’s stable as a teenager back in 1964, is responsible for giving Britain its first winner at the event. His second triumph came with Daliapour in the 2000 Hong Kong Vase (2400m) and Stoute will saddle the South African-bred mare Smart Call in that race this time around.
It remains to be seen whether or not Poet’s Word has the innate ability within his late-developing frame to turn runner-up G1 finishes into LONGINES Hong Kong Cup triumph. But if the talent is there, he’s with the right man to tap it.
Stoute is due to land in Hong Kong on Thursday afternoon. Poet’s Word had his first experience of the Sha Tin turf on Wednesday (6 December) morning and Raymond is hopeful of a big run before another G1 tilt in Dubai this coming March.
“Poet’s Word has travelled out to Hong Kong well. Although he seems to go on any type of ground, I think he would prefer it on the easy side. If there was a drop of rain, we would be more than happy, but I don’t think it is a necessity. He has won on fast ground before,” he said.
“His main objective after this will be the Dubai Sheema Classic,” he added.