Horse Racing
Ping Hai Star, Nothingilikemore to test Classic form in Celebration Cup

By Andrew Hawkins
28/09/2018 15:55

Ping Hai Star wins the BMW Hong Kong Derby impressively.
Ping Hai Star wins the BMW Hong Kong Derby impressively.

Classic heroes Ping Hai Star and Nothingilikemore return as five-year-olds in Monday’s (1 October) G3 Celebration Cup Handicap (1400m) with big aims and high hopes, with trainer John Size hopeful that both can prove quickly that they belong amongst the best horses in Hong Kong.

Size prepares both BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) winner Ping Hai Star and Hong Kong Classic Mile victor Nothingilikemore and says that the early part of their five-year-old season is crucial in determining where they will fit into the landscape in the future.

“The handicap that they have got, you find out pretty quickly as five-year-olds whether they are up to it against the better horses and whether they are better than their mark,” Size said at Sha Tin on Friday morning (28 September). “Normally, they improve from four to five, especially in Hong Kong. The horses that have been around in the Classic races last season, barring complications, they should have some progression left in them.”

Ping Hai Star (123lb) had an unorthodox preparation for the Derby, coming off three wins over 1400m – once in Class 3 and twice in Class 2 – before his feature success. He had never stepped beyond a mile heading into the Derby, either, but his two efforts at 2000m – his Derby win and a fourth to Pakistan Star in the G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup – were good enough for Size to form the opinion that the Nom Du Jeu gelding has a future as a middle-distance galloper.

However, Size also believes that Ping Hai Star is an untapped commodity and is reluctant to rule out anything for the Australian import in the future.

“At the moment, his best distance is the 2000m – that’s what it says on the form guide,” he said. “Even though he was good at 1400m, that was in a different class of race. That said, he’s not the sort of horse you can pigeon-hole and say that he can’t do this or that. He can do anything and he’s even proven that in a 1400m race in a lower grade, when at the start you would have thought he had no chance of winning and he still did. There’s no limit to what he’s capable of.”

Ping Hai Star trials nicely at Happy Valley earlier this season.

From gate two, Size expects Ping Hai Star to be in his usual back-of-the-pack position under new jockey Sam Clipperton.

“There’s always plenty of speed on in the 1400m races at Sha Tin,” he said. “I haven’t looked at this race but I’m sure they will run along as there are plenty of horses needing to get a position. He doesn’t need to get a position, he will drop out the back and run home. He does have a distance issue, so it’s about whether he can pick them up.”

Clipperton will take his first ride on Ping Hai Star, having partnered him in two gallops as well as in the bay’s only trial, a 1200m hit-out at Happy Valley.

“He’s a star horse and I’m very excited to be riding him,” Clipperton said. “While he’s sure to improve after the run, I think his class will have him running a nice race on Monday. At Happy Valley, he was five lengths from them at the line but 200m after the line he was five lengths in front. I think that is one of the horse’s character traits, he enjoys what he does, he likes to keep going. It was the same in a jump-out he had down the back straight and I was struggling to pull him up.

“He’s such an athlete of a horse, very clean-winded and he uses himself well. He’s very efficient in his action and he wastes no energy. He’s a class act.”

Nothingilikemore (119lb) returns after a chequered four-year-old season. His win in the Classic Mile was followed by a fourth as an odds-on favourite in the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) when he stepped away slowly, while he struggled at 2000m when 11th to Ping Hai Star in the Derby.

Nothingilikemore coasts to victory in the Hong Kong Classic Mile.
Nothingilikemore coasts to victory in the Hong Kong Classic Mile.

His campaign came to an end when he reared in the gates and missed the start hopelessly in a barrier trial in late May. However, jockey Karis Teetan, who is the Husson gelding’s new partner this campaign, says that all signs have been positive through two trials.

“He’s actually been very good in the gates,” Teetan said. “He feels very fresh and he’s given me a great feel in the trials. I think he still needs to improve, he’s not at his peak yet and I believe John still has something up his sleeve to get him there. He goes in to a race where he has a light weight and he should get speed on so if he gets that, I’m pretty sure he’s going to let down nicely.”

While Nothingilikemore has won at a mile, he is a four-time course and distance winner and has shaped as though 1400m could prove his best distance. For Size, though, he believes he has a potential top miler in his hands.

“I couldn’t take the view that he might be best at 1400m because he won impressively at a mile in the Classic Mile, so we take the view that he’s capable at a mile,” Size said. “I’m not concerned about his form, he seems to be in very good form, he’s pretty relaxed at the moment. He’s fit enough to win – he’s had a couple of trials and he’s run well fresh. Every other horse is in a similar predicament in here, so therefore it makes him fit enough to win. Physically, he does look a little bit better, as you’d expect from a horse that’s gone from four to five.”

Nothingilikemore will jump from gate 10.

Size also saddles up Thewizardofoz (131lb) and Dinozzo (117lb), who have drawn the outside two gates in the 14-horse field. Also in the line-up are Horse of the Year Beauty Generation (133lb) and G1 winner Seasons Bloom (133lb), who finished first and second in this race last year, while Beauty Only (130lb), Fifty Fifty (130lb) and Southern Legend (130lb) are others of note in the feature.

The Celebration Cup Handicap is set to jump at 4.40pm as the eighth of 10 races. The day’s other highlight, the G3 National Day Cup Handicap (1000m), is scheduled for 4.05pm.