Paul O'Sullivan's Aashiq may lack something in sheer quality on many of those who chased him home in the Prince Jewellery & Watch Premier Cup yesterday, but when the dust cleared after the final Group event of the season, he was the one runner who had been targeted for that race.
Having his first start for more than three months and returning from a second heart irregularity, Aashiq (Mark du Plessis) was allowed the luxury of rolling along alone in front, the circumstances that always make the six-year- old tough to run down. Under 114 pounds, the gelding did what was expected and held off the Group One stars to win his second black type handicap for the term.
'He is not a horse who can beat the best in the Group One races but he's got his share of talent and these handicaps are what he needs to even things up - a classic horse of the Hong Kong system, you could say. He's won a couple of these now and done a great job for a cheap horse,' said O'Sullivan. 'I looked at this race for Aashiq quite a while ago. You know you're going to run into some of the good ones but it's their last run for the season and my bloke was coming back from a spell.'
But Aashiq's preparation had to be handled 'just so' to make sure he was at his best for the race.
'First-up isn't his best run, but his second-up run is usually very good,' O'Sullivan said. 'So I gave him two barrier trials and made sure the second one was pretty serious, so it was like a first-up run. He's done everything right coming into the race and when they didn't take him on, I was pretty happy in the run.'
Top trainer John Moore sent out half the field in the race, including a one-dimensional leader in Leading City, so getting his own way was not assured for Du Plessis, but getting the rail probably was and the jockey believes that to be key.
'He is a different horse when he gets the rail, it just seems to make Aashiq far more confidence of himself and he races accordingly,' he said. 'He's been flying in his work and I came into the race feeling pretty good about his chances but I was trying to put a lid on that confidence, because last time he'd been feeling this good under me was when he had the heart irregularity.'
With almost HK$7 million in the bank and six wins from 25 starts - all at 1,400m - Aashiq has been, as O'Sullivan said, a classic product of the system. 'He's a one-trick pony but he gets it right often enough and he's been a terrific horse for a great bunch of owners,' the trainer said. 'And when the time comes to retire him, there'll be somewhere nice for him to go and do it because he's a total gentleman to handle and he'd make a lovely riding horse.'
Behind Aashiq trailed in the winners of the Classic Mile, Champions Mile, Chairman's Trophy and a string of other major events, and connections were largely unconcerned at defeat in their final outing for the season.
'For Sweet Orange, it was too much after going up to 2,000m to be coming back to 1,400m, and he tried hard but didn't have the dash' said Weichong Marwing.
Zac Purton told Moore Captain Sweet failed to handle the soft ground, Tim Clark said Xtension was simply outpaced coming back to 1,400m and Moore said Admiration was brave and honest in fourth: 'Destined For Glory ran a decent race. But they all go for a break now and we'll look to some big targets for them next season.'