No worries over Spanish Moon despite English ban
Sir Michael Stoute's Spanish Moon has not raced in England for more than a year after a six-month ban for refusing to load into the barriers on three occasions, but neither the trainer nor the stewards are concerned he might disrupt tomorrow's Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase.
Before the Dubai Sheema Classic in March, Spanish Moon was loaded by walking in backwards through the front of the starting stalls.
The change certainly didn't affect his performance, with Spanish Moon fighting the race out to go down by a nose to Eastern Anthem - leaving Purple Moon and Youmzain behind him - and Stoute said that tactic had been unnecessary in placing the stayer in the gates for his most recent appearances.
Chief steward Kim Kelly said yesterday that he and the starting-stalls staff were fully aware of Spanish Moon's past offences but, after barrier practice for the stallion this week, were not concerned.
'We consulted the horse's connections and arranged a special session for him on Wednesday, and he walked in with no problem,' Kelly said. 'The starter, Tony McGovern, said Spanish Moon was a complete gentleman and walked straight in.
'We have contingency plans if the horse deviates from that on race day, when the situation is a little different, with the crowd and more excitement around him, than was the case on Wednesday, but I don't anticipate any problems.'
As a result of the ban at home, the ultra-consistent winner of six of his 13 races has run in Dubai, France and the US this year.
However, Stoute believes he will still go into the race as one of the fresher horses after overseeing his final piece of work yesterday.
'The ban hasn't harmed him, it has just been a bit of an inconvenience, and he has given no trouble in France or in California for the Breeders' Cup,' he said.
'He is coming here at only his fifth run for the year, so he is still quite fresh. He ran a good race at Santa Anita, and we've had this race in mind for some time. He travelled over well and his work has been good. I think he must have a good chance.'
One of the world's great big-event trainers, Stoute is no stranger to Sha Tin success either, having taken out the International Bowl in 1994 with Soviet Line and the 2000 Vase with Daliapour.
The trainer was also pleased with his Hong Kong Mile runner, Confront, at yesterday's trackwork session, but the four-year-old's class is under the microscope.
'He's a big, tough animal, but he's very fit and his work has been nice. I'm happy with how he is going into the race, it's just a serious jump for him,' he said.
'He's a Group Three winner going into what looks a proper Group One, and he does have a lot to find against these horses. Maybe we're throwing him in the deep end.'
Confront's running style in his recent wins at Haydock and Newmarket has been to roll to the lead and dictate the tempo, and he has been a fierce competitor at the business end. However, Stoute could deviate from that pattern with him tomorrow.
'Yes, he's usually on the pace, but with him drawing wide in gate 10, I think it is asking too much to do that with him,' he said.