To lead or not to lead? That is the question facing trainer Tony Cruz and jockey Joao Moreira with crack sprinter Peniaphobia in Sunday’s Longines Hong Kong Sprint after last year’s runner-up drew the dreaded outside gate.
Local idol Cruz saddles up six runners in the international features, only bettered by the 10 runners of another Hong Kong legend in John Moore, but while Cruz has legitimate chances in all four features, it is Peniaphobia that has attracted most attention.
The tactics adopted on the Group One winner have been a matter of great debate – while some of his more impressive performances have come when he has been ridden quietly, Cruz believes the horse is better suited up on the speed.
At his last two starts, the four-year-old has engaged in speed duels that effectively handed each race to horses coming from behind – firstly Able Friend, then Gold-Fun – and his ability to stay on for placings in both races was admirable.
It has long been suggested that Sunday’s HK$18.5 million feature would be the opportunity to ride the horse quieter, but with the outside barrier limiting options, Cruz suggested he wanted Moreira to “use some of his magic”, ride for speed again and tackle for the lead.
“He has very quick early speed out of the gates so I still think we have to use it,” Cruz said. “It makes sense, because it means he has a tactical advantage over Gold-Fun in running.
“We’ll see what happens from there, maybe Joao can use some of his magic, ease back after shooting him out and hopefully he can get a position near the rail.
“There does look to be a bit of speed in there so I don’t think he will be leading, but I think he will be going forward. Still, in the end, it’s in Joao’s hands, he will do what he can.
“I’m worried that Peniaphobia will end up in the public stand though, no matter what he does. If he goes forward, there’s one American horse, Mongolian Saturday, up there.
“If he goes back, there’s another American horse, Green Mask, and given they only race left-handed in America both could drift towards the outside under him. That’s the only concern I have.”
While overseas betting markets suggest Peniaphobia is the trainer’s best chance of another victory on international day, he was looking to another ‘Speed’ influence as his stable’s shining light.
“Blazing Speed, he’s the one, he just stands out so clearly for me,” he said about one of his two Cup chances, with Cruz also sending out Beauty Only in the HK$25 million feature.
“I couldn’t be more happy with him. He’s drawn two, that’s fantastic, and his run in the lead-up was terrific giving weight to Military Attack and Beauty Only. I think if he runs up to his QE II Cup win he will be very hard to beat. He’s just a bombproof horse.
“The gate isn’t so good for Beauty Only. He will have to drop out to last again but he showed last time out that he will stay 2,000 metres so we will see, we can hope.”
The handler played giant-killer with Beauty Flame in the Jockey Club Mile and while he admits it will be tough to beat Able Friend again, he says there is a sense of déjà vu about the Hong Kong Mile and he hopes either Beauty Flame or late entry Romantic Touch can score.
“The race should set up the same as it did last time,” he said. “I don’t think Beauty Flame will lead but from that draw, he might be able to sit off John Moore’s horse [Secret Sham] again and hopefully he can hold off the late challengers again.
“He’s tough, he may not have the turn of foot of Able Friend but, man, he’s hard to pass. And last start, he showed that when he has something to chase, he’s even better. Romantic Touch will also be ridden a bit handier, and he’s coming into this as well as he can be.”
Cruz also sends out Helene Super Star in the Vase as the horse aims to take the second of Hong Kong’s Group Ones over 2,400m, having won the Champions & Chater Cup in May.
“It’s a good Vase but given he’s drawn the inside, I think he will be racing handy. I’m very happy with him, I’m happy with his draw because he can be a bit keen behind horses so hopefully we can have him up near the speed, away from trouble,” Cruz said, also referring to the horse’s past life when he was a UAE Derby winner for Aidan O’Brien under the moniker Lines Of Battle.
“He did come to Hong Kong as a solid 10-furlong type, he ran in the Kentucky Derby and those sorts of races, but the more he has progressed here, he’s become a 2,400m horse. He showed that when he won the Champions & Chater this year.”