Horse Racing
Gibson’s Wishful for a bold Al Quoz Sprint showing

By David Morgan in Dubai
29/03/2019 16:20

Wishful Thinker prepared for Saturday’s race through thick fog.
Wishful Thinker prepared for Saturday’s race through thick fog.

Richard Gibson is looking to the past as well as the future as he prepares Wishful Thinker for the biggest test of a burgeoning career in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint (1200m) at Meydan, Dubai on Saturday evening (30 March).

“We’re banking on the success of Hong Kong horses in these sprint races in Dubai – historically they’ve done very well,” the trainer said this morning (29 March).

Hong Kong’s Amber Sky took the Al Quoz Sprint in 2014 (when it was a 1000m contest) and Joy And Fun won the race when it was a G3 race in 2010. Sha Tin gallopers have secured a slew of placings, too: Joy And Fun was also third in 2012 and second in 2013; Peniaphobia took second in 2015 and third in 2016; and Eagle Regiment was third in 2013.

Gibson believes Wishful Thinker can enhance that record in the 1200m straight track charge and he has held that view for some time.

“We had this race in mind at the start of the season,” he said. “He’s the most improved sprinter in Hong Kong at the moment so I very much hope he can continue Hong Kong’s good tradition in this race.”

The Australian-bred, who will break nearest to the stands’ side from gate 13, showed progressive form in his first Hong Kong season, winning two from six starts. This term, the I Am Invincible gelding has lifted his game, winning four from eight. That quartet of victories has come in a concentrated batch since November.

“He beat Hot King Prawn last season when Hot King Prawn was winning all of those races,” Gibson said, recalling Wishful Thinker’s deep-closing surge last April, which overhauled the subsequent two-time G2 winner.

“This season, he’s continued to progress,” the Englishman added. “He’s won four of his last five races and not many horses can do that in Hong Kong – it’s quite a unique feat.”

Gibson saw little of Wishful Thinker’s eve-of-race exercise. The five-year-old emerged from thick fog as he eased down from a steady canter, disappearing again into the murk after passing through a brief 30-metre stretch of visibility.

Stablemate Gold Mount had come out of the misty grey blanket seconds earlier.

“I couldn’t be happier with both horses,” Gibson said.

Going for Gold

Gold Mount will step up to two miles for the first time on Saturday.
Gold Mount will step up to two miles for the first time on Saturday.

While Wishful Thinker is facing G1 opposition for the first time, top-flight veteran Gold Mount will encounter a new race distance as he steps beyond a mile and a half for the first time at his 27th career start.

Ryan Moore will ride the six-year-old in the G2 Dubai Gold Cup (3200m). Britain’s three-time champion jockey suggested the Meydan race should be Gibson’s aim after the Pan Sutong-owned galloper’s eighth-place finish in last month’s G1 Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m).

“That was the first thing Ryan said when he got off the horse, to go for this race,” the trainer said. “I think he’ll be very well-suited to the distance.”

But Gibson is under no illusions as to the task at hand in a race which features G1 Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter among the tough opposition.

“The challenge is that he’s running the distance for the first time and he’s up against some of the best stayers in the world. Ideally, he would have an easier task for his first attempt at two miles, to help him find his rhythm at that distance – that could be his biggest challenge,” he said.

“But I’m really pleased with him, he’s well and I think he’ll run a good race,” he added.

Legend and Hero through the fog

Fight Hero went through the Meydan fog.
Fight Hero went through the Meydan fog.

Southern Legend and Fight Hero went around the fog-shrouded circuit in company and both appeared to be in good heart upon pulling up.

Zac Purton will ride Southern Legend in the G1 Dubai Turf (1800m), and, while he was in town this morning, he was not at the track.

“He’s been racing very well in Hong Kong behind our best horse, so his form is solid, but unfortunately it looks like he’s bumped into a superstar (Almond Eye) from Japan. That’s not going to make his job easy but I’m sure if he runs to his best, he can run a good race,” Purton said.

Trainer Caspar Fownes is pleased with how the SIN G1 Kranji Mile winner has taken the travel and new surroundings.

“He’s done really well, I couldn’t be happier with him, everything’s gone superb,” he said.  “He’s settled in beautifully; it’s a strong race but he’s in good form and he’s here in great shape. He likes to get into a fight, he’s a very honest horse.”

Fight Hero had his usual visit to the starting gates after his canter and trainer Me Tsui was delighted with the Sha Tin dirt track specialist ahead of the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (1200m, dirt).

“He is more relaxed every day, he’s really happy with the environment here now. He had a walk around behind the gates again and he’s no problem,” Tsui said. “He’s very fit and now there are only nine runners because Roy H is out. That’s better for us – it’s better for everyone!

“I don’t know whether the track will suit horses coming from behind but the pacing should suit. I think he will be able to settle in midfield and hopefully he will have a turn-of-foot in the last 300 metres.”