Dunaden sends out warning to rivals
An exceptional track gallop by Hong Kong Vase fancy Dunaden yesterday erased any fears of fatigue and filled jockey Craig Williams with confidence ahead of his redemptive ride aboard the Melbourne Cup winner.
A fresh-looking Dunaden motored through his final serious workout on the Sha Tin course proper for Williams, eliminating concerns the five-year-old would be jaded after a long but successful season.
After riding the Mikel Delzangles-trained stayer to victory in the Geelong Cup in October, Williams was suspended and missed what could have been his first Melbourne Cup victory.
The former Hong Kong-based jockey hoop had already captured the Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate and was set to become the first jockey to bag the treble of 'majors' in the same season.
The 34-year-old exhausted every legal avenue to avoid the ban, only to watch Frenchman Christophe Lemaire win the Melbourne Cup in a thrilling photo finish.
Victory in the Vase on Sunday would go some way towards easing the pain and Williams believes the French horse is 'thriving' at his new base.
Williams can provide an authoritative point of reference on the horse's condition, having ridden him in workouts before both the Geelong and Melbourne Cups, and now before and after he left Australia.
'I'd spoken to Mikel and I'd seen a photo of him and he looked in really good nick, but when I saw him in the flesh and sat on him I was really happy,' Williams said. 'He has put on weight and is in really good order.'
After a one-lap slow canter of the all-weather track, Dunaden worked over 1,400m on the course proper and rocketed over his last 400m in 22.5 seconds and final 200m in 11.08.
'I was happy with the way he felt throughout his work. When I asked him to extend, he did it well,' Williams said.
It wasn't just the track times and obvious residual fitness which had Williams excited, but the horse's fresh demeanour and healthy appearance. Dunaden stayed in Australia after his Cup win and the springtime sun worked wonders, with his coat looking superior to most of his Northern Hemisphere rivals.
'He was pretty full of himself and I had to really sit tight,' Williams said of the horse's 'slow' lap, where he wanted to race passing horses on the crowded inner track.
'He is just showing how well he is feeling in Hong Kong, in a different climate at the end of a long year.'
The Vase will be the horse's seventh run this year, all of them at 2,400m or beyond.
Williams said he was grateful to Dunaden's connections, including owner Sheikh Fahaad al-Thani, for giving him another Group One opportunity.
'They were so supportive and they hung in there as long as they could in Australia,' he said. 'They just give me so much confidence and I have such a great relationship with the horse. He just runs for me.'