Understudies take centre stage
Reigning champion trainer John Moore was to the fore yesterday, even if it was by remote control as he was still winding up his Christmas holiday break, but it wasn't his stable jockey Darren Beadman in the saddle as he landed a double - it was 'the other guys'.
Jeff Lloyd (Zaidan) and Neil Callan (Straight Gold) are two of a number of riders who are happy to play a support role for the Moore yard and they got the benefits, winning the last two races for the team on horses who are both going somewhere.
Straight Gold had been well-supported to triumph on his first appearance on international day over 1,200m, but a combination of a tough trip and a mucopus scope post-race told the tale when he finished nearer last than first, but Moore has a high opinion of the three-year-old and so does Callan.
'I've done a bit on him the last two weeks to get used to him coming into this race and he really gives you the feel of a serious horse,' Callan said.
'The object of the exercise today coming back to 1,000m and with the crossed nose band on was to get him settled, not chase him out at the start and it really suited me to be able to give him a nice trip sitting off Oriental Prosper. My horse literally pulled his way up to the lead - I could have gone to the front earlier if I'd wanted - but then he idled the last bit after he'd killed them off.'
Callan said the three-year-old had relished the drop back to 1,000m from the point of view of getting him settled but he didn't believe he would be restricted to that distance as time goes on. 'I see he won in Australia at 1,200m and I don't think it was the distance that beat him first time out, it was all the factors together,' he said. 'I've ridden some good sprinters at home in the UK, but the feel you get from the southern hemisphere horses is completely different - this is a big, powerful horse and I think there is plenty more to come.'
Zaidan had stamped himself as a Derby proposition last season when he won over 1,400m at Sha Tin, before he became coltish and difficult to handle, and Lloyd said he's not surprised.
'He's a gelding now and he can still be a bit tricky, so I can imagine he was a handful before,' he said after Zaidan held off a wall of finishers to take the Chek Keng Handicap (1,800m).
With Beadman on the stable favourite, Smart Giant - a close-up fifth - hard-working Lloyd got another chance, as he had in the Hong Kong Mile on Able One recently, to land the prize on the stable's second stringer. 'Well that's going to happen at times and John has quite a few of these horses heading for the Derby who are going to meet at different times and there isn't always a lot between them,' he said.
'I think this guy is going in the right direction for the Derby. The 2,000m won't be a problem and even though he has only just won today, that might have been the circumstances. I think he could be a better horse chasing other horses down, but I didn't want to let the lightweight leader, Liberator, get too far ahead. I think I won this particular race by getting after Liberator and putting a break on the field but he did have a think about it when he was in front and it wouldn't have wanted to be any further.'
The number of wins John Moore has scored this season after his double yesterday. He is fourth in the trainers' standings