All the homework pays off for wily Moore

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 March, 2009, 12:00am

The 'glorious' sounds a trifle misplaced and a picture of trainer John Moore in the car park at Goodwood with a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc in one hand and the other trying to keep his straw hat from the wind hardly seems like the preamble to a Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby win.

'One of the trips I look forward to every year with my brother Gary is late July - Glorious Goodwood in England. We sit with our pasta and smoked salmon and a glass of white and watch them saddle up, go to the enclosure and we take photos and observe them and see what's about,' Moore said this week. 'It's a great few days' racing but the wind nearly blew me away last year.'

Up hill and down dale, Goodwood is a fabulous piece of rural England, a racecourse dropped into farming country from a great height and simply left where it landed.

'It's a testing track. Anything that wins there is worth a look. I probably shouldn't tell everyone - half the trainers in Hong Kong will go,' laughs Moore, who does the homework - and Derby favourite Collection is the latest result. 'A lot of trainers buy from Europe but they never go to see what they're buying - they trust the agents and agents can tell you anything.'

International travel might be the antithesis of work to most, but Moore admits that Goodwood is the only trip he enjoys.

'I hate the trips but they pay off. The last one in October, it was snowing. I hadn't seen snow for years and couldn't wait to get back to the pollution in Hong Kong!' he says. 'When the season ends, my vacation is 10 days playing golf then Gary and I go to England and look at stables through the south then up to Newmarket. Kern Lillingston Bloodstock - the only agent I've ever used - sets it up and we just drive. About 1,300km in a week, pulling horses out of boxes, photographing them. And not only those for sale.'

And that's where the Collection story starts.

'We concentrate on horses from Goodwood and Royal Ascot and I inquired about Collection after he won the Hampton Court Stakes at Ascot in June and the answer was no,' Moore said. 'So in July, we went to Willie Haggas' stables. I know his wife, Maureen, Lester Piggot's sister, pretty well and asked if she would bring Collection out for me. She ummed and aahed and finally agreed but reiterated that he was their best horse and wasn't for sale. So I saw him and took a few pictures.'

Then Moore kept tabs on Collection in the perverse hope things weren't working out.

'He was an average run in France and didn't show the turn of foot I would have expected. I thought perhaps he hadn't travelled and disappointed, which probably meant he was closer to being sold but the answer was still no,' Moore recalled. 'Then he went to Turkey for a mile in September. I didn't think he would get going at that trip and more travelling for a horse with some attitude, so I wasn't surprised when he ran fifth. And now he was for sale. I asked for a price and said yes. I had already seen him so the deal was in writing in minutes. I wasn't giving anyone else a chance.'

But, like any good yarn, there was a twist.

'He passed the vet with flying colours, went to quarantine, was gelded on the advice of Haggas,' Moore recalled. 'Everything was fine - then he came up with a piro.'

Equine piroplasmosis is usually transmitted by parasites like ticks and mosquitoes, and destroys red blood cells. It is present in 90 per cent of the world's equine populations, notably African zebras, and throughout continental Europe.

'He must have picked it up in Europe, but coming here with a high reading was a no-no,' said Moore. 'I was panicking. We took him out of quarantine and treated him, but by the time Collection was ready for export he'd been in and out of quarantine for 10 weeks. There was definitely a time when I thought we were too far behind.'

When Collection arrived, Moore wasted no time.

'We hadn't the luxury of quarantine for two weeks doing nothing - my riding boy trotted him every day,' he explained. 'Then another week of trotting before I could get into him but, thankfully, he showed signs of coming to hand quickly. There have only been a few Peintre Celebres here, including last year's Derby winner, and they have all settled in fast.'

If Collection's first run was good, the second was shattering - for everyone else with designs on today's classic.

'Let's say he doesn't win the Derby - I still have no doubt we have a serious international horse. He goes through his gears very quickly - faster than Viva Pataca,' Moore said. 'Viva is a bit narrow in front and has to get properly balanced before he can accelerate but this horse has a better action and is push-button. We'll get through this season first, but I think we'll be looking at going offshore at the end of the year.'

A second Derby in four runnings seems a decent payoff for the kilometres driven and stable boxes opened and Moore has no intention of straying from his plan.

'People will sell good horses in the UK. Not the Arabs, but everyone who has to make ends meet. Prize money isn't enough,' he says. 'There are more nice horses available in England for realistic money. I took a leaf from Brian Kan [Ping-chee]'s book, buying a British handicapper to win the Derby. The quality is better now but the principle remains. I did it with Viva. Hopefully I can do it with Collection.'