Maurice might not have broken any records at trackwork on Friday but his trainer insists his champion miler is ready for his match-up with Hong Kong hero Able Friend as the 10 Japanese-trained runners rounded out preparations for their siege of Sha Tin on Sunday.
Japanese horses are renowned for producing impressive gallops in the lead-up to big races but Noriyuki Hori said Maurice’s relatively relaxed breeze down the straight was the right type of work two days out from his clash with Hong Kong’s highest ever rated horse in the Longines Hong Kong Mile.
“Perfect,” was Hori’s reaction after Maurice worked home his last 400 metres in a leisurely 26.18 seconds with jockey Ryan Moore aboard. “That was exactly as we planned. He has travelled well and his weight is right on, the same as it was last start.”
Hori said his experience with stayer Jaguar Mail – who ran in the Vase four times – had guided him on how to handle the build-up this time around.
“We used the same routine – Jaguar Mail ran third, fourth twice and second, so it was proven,” he said. “We worked Jaguar Mail on the Friday as well, and not too fast.”
Maurice has taken all before him this season, winning five from five, including an imperious victory in the recent Group One Mile Championships at Kyoto.
The record speaks for itself and the famously guarded Hori wasn’t about to add any hyperbole to the anticipation already surrounding his horse’s battle with Able Friend, simply stating; “We have watched Able Friend’s replays and he is a very strong horse.”
Hori leads by six wins in his quest for a first training title with less than a month remaining in the Japanese season and the man chasing him, Yasutoshi Ikee, brings Satono Aladdin, one of four Japanese-trained runners in the Hong Kong Cup.
Ikee said his stunning four-year-old’s talent was still untapped and a step up to 2,000m could bring out his best after a fourth to Maurice last start.
“Maybe the other horses in the Cup (Staphanos, Nuovo Record and A Shin Hikari) look better on paper but I believe that in terms of natural ability, my horse is more talented than the others, he just needs to show it.
“He was spelled during the summer and this will be his third run this preparation. He is definitely on the up. When he came back to the stables after the break, he had definitely improved physically and mentally.”
James McDonald will have to contend with gate 14 from the tricky 2,000m starting point on Satono Alladin in a race where tearaway leader A Shin Hikari is expected to produce his usual catch-me-if-you-can tactics.
“A Shin Hikari will ensure there is pace in the race, but we still don’t want to be too far back, I think we will be just in front of midfield – that would be ideal,” Ikee said.
Japanese rider Keita Tosaki has flown back to Japan in his own quest for a second champion jockey title to ride in 12 races at Nakayama on Saturday and will return to Sha Tin On Sunday to partner Staphanos in the Cup and Straight Girl in the Sprint, both for trainer Hideaki Fujiwara.
“It is my first time riding at Sha Tin, but I am very confident the horses are good enough and I took some confidence away from coming third in the International Jockeys’ Championship at Happy Valley this week,” Tosaki said. “I’ve ridden both of my horses in work and they both seem in top condition.”