Defending champion Designs On Rome might not be first-up in today’s HK$25 million Longines Hong Kong Cup (2,000m) at Sha Tin but John Moore can still count it amongst his most satisfying feats as a trainer when the five-year-old takes the main event on our calendar again.
John Size produced the only horse to win a Hong Kong international event first-up when Glorious Days took the Mile two years ago, but Moore’s effort will be on a par if successful.
The winner of the 2014 Derby, QE II Cup, Hong Kong Cup and 2015 Gold Cup over the Sha Tin 2,000m, Designs On Rome (Joao Moreira) was at something of a crossroads when he returned to training this term.
Moore wound up the gelding’s campaign a run early last season, sending Designs On Rome for arthroscopic surgery to both front fetlocks in May to leave him a tight but doable window to have a chance at this race again.
In 2014, Designs On Rome’s training work began to take shape in late August, this year it was late September, and Moore had time to give him three races leading into the Hong Kong Cup last year, albeit with two of them disappointing.
This time, it will be the bay’s second run, but his first for the campaign over 1,600m left no doubt that the crossroads was behind him and the long, strong work Moore has given him since has brought him to a peak in training, where he looks as good as he has ever been.
Few horses outrun Able Friend in the final 400m of a Sha Tin race. You’d make that ‘no horses’, except it’s what Designs On Rome did in the Jockey Club Mile, ripping back the ground late on the champion miler, and he can produce that acceleration at 2,000m too.
A Shin Hikari is going to ensure a softening up of forward horses through the first half, allowing Moreira to blend in from the rear by the 700m and ready to launch.
Blazing Speed (Neil Callan) is a chance but, when Designs On Rome and even patched-up Military Attack (Zac Purton) are firing, they are slightly better than him and they have a chance to reprise their 2014 quinella, with Dermot Weld-trained Free Eagle (Pat Smullen) looking the other main obstacle.
With just three runs this year, his issue is neither quality nor the lack of freshness we often see in good Europeans in these races, but his draw appears a real problem unless the field strings right out.
Underneath he has Dan Excel, Nuovo Record, Military Attack and Blazing Speed likely to hold some fairly forward positions behind a good speed set by first Gailo Chop – should he be cleared to run this morning – and then A Shin Hikari charging across. Smullen’s options will be to chase the fast lead aggressively into the first turn, a gamble, or hope for a hole behind the speed if Free Port Lux, Lucia Valentina and Designs On Rome all go straight back early.