Trainer John Moore admits he is still learning about reigning Horse Of The Year Viva Pataca, as he enters a new phase of his career in tomorrow's Group Three Jebsen Centenary Vase (1,800m).
The eight-year-old was fourth in the Sha Tin Trophy in October at his first run from the summer break but disappointing efforts in the International Cup Trial and Hong Kong Vase have left the veteran star's career at a crossroads.
'His run first-up was good but, being an older horse, he seemed to train off after it instead of improving as he did in past campaigns. He seemed to be flat by the time the international race came around,' Moore (pictured) said yesterday. 'Both myself and Darren Beadman felt the extra week off for missing the Stewards' Cup last week would help him and he seems to have freshened up nicely.
'I'm definitely on a learning curve with him now that he's getting a bit longer in the tooth. Darren's been thrilled with his work and he'll come in very fit for this race, but his goal is the Hong Kong Gold Cup and we're under no illusions about the task on Sunday.'
Higher grade handicaps are always tough to win with the top weight though the Centenary Vase has seen more of those successes than other Premier races.
Indigenous was able to win the race with 137 pounds in 1998 and Moore's four past wins in the race even include Survey King under 131 pounds in 1996 and Super Kid with 133 pounds four years ago.
His cause has been helped this year by the absence of any rising Derby-bound four-year-olds in tomorrow's event but Moore is still wary of the handicaps.
'I think he's still the one to beat as almost half of the field are out of the handicap, so the really lightly-weighted ones are not actually that well in,' Moore said. 'But it still isn't easy when you have to give a stone away in weight and you need all the luck of the race to go your way.
'I'd love to see him win the Vase, of course, but most of all I want to see that he really lets down and puts his heart into it and we'll know that he's on target to win a third straight Gold Cup.'