John Moore was satisfied with Able Friend's final piece of serious work before his showdown with stablemate Designs On Rome in Sunday's Group One BMW Hong Kong Derby - but from his spot in the trainers' stand, Moore has also kept tabs on the progress of Dibayani, the horse he feels is the biggest threat to his stranglehold on the HK$16 million event.
Able Friend worked solidly over 1,200m on Monday morning in preparation for his latest clash with Designs On Rome; the two Moore-trained stars have filled the top two places in the opening two legs of the four-year-old series, splitting the results.
"Joao Moreira rode him, jumped off and gave it the thumbs up - that was his last major gallop," said Moore, who is chasing his fourth win in the feature with his four-horse team, which also includes Secret Sham and Travel Brother. "Able Friend is peaking right now."
Michael Chang Chun-wai's Dibayani was just over three lengths behind Able Friend in the Group One Hong Kong Classic Mile nearly two months ago. While he hasn't raced since, his work has been solid, regular and without setbacks, and included a strong win in a trial last week.
"Dibayani is the biggest threat if he brings his very best form," Moore said of the Aga Khan-bred import. "It does catch my eye when he goes out - you get a good look at them as they come down past us in the trainers' stand on the dirt track. There is always a doubt about whether they have the miles in the legs, coming off a break like that - it is always preferable to have race fitness - but his trial looked very, very good."
Chang decided to skip the Group One Classic Cup over 1,800m in favour of a freshen-up and first-up shot at the big one, concerned that the gelding's slender frame wouldn't stand up to the stress of the extra race.
Leading jockey Zac Purton has ridden Dibayani in both of his local starts and agreed with Moore's assertion that his mount was the next best contender.
"If you take a line through the Classic Mile, that certainly seems to be the case," Purton said. "He has done nothing wrong since he has been here. He has only had two starts and has hit the line well in both, and his form overseas suggests he can run the distance.
"Michael said that he is a lightly framed horse that doesn't take a lot of work, and he decided we would do as much as we could on the track."
While Moore was querying what sort of race shape Dibayani would be in, he was confident Able Friend - who weighs in at just under 1,300 pounds - had been given enough work. "He is a big boy and we have to put the work into him but he enjoys it and never leaves an oat," he said.
Moore admits the 2,000m of the Derby is at Able Friend's outer limit stamina-wise; he has removed his sheepskin cheekpieces to ensure he relaxes, but is also praying for a low draw. "Having to manoeuvre from a wide draw would really test his stamina out and getting some cover will help," he said.