They said he trialled badly and they said he wasn’t the same horse, but after Australian jockey Tommy Berry renewed his great partnership with Designs On Rome after almost two years away he said he couldn’t notice the difference.
“He’s exactly the way I left him,” said Berry after Designs On Rome won back-to-back Hong Kong Gold Cups on Sunday and gave trainer John Moore his 11th win in the race and his seventh in just the past nine years.
Berry had been aboard the John Moore-trained gelding when he sailed through the spring of 2014 plucking Group Ones like they were daisies, then Joao Moreira had taken over last season as Designs On Rome kept on his winning way and became horse of the year.
But it was Berry that owner Cheng Keung-fai called on to revive the horse after three unplaced runs this term and, 21 months after Berry last rode the gelding, there he was with his signature flow around the field at the 700m before going on to win and he fist-bumped with runner-up Moreira after going across the line.
“John’s just a freak with these good horses, the way he keeps them going,” Berry said. “Designs On Rome certainly doesn’t feel any different to how he did the last time I sat on him.”
In the race Moore owns, he also saddled the runner-up Helene Happy Star and was probably unlucky to miss third with Dominant, but he had to play second fiddle an hour later when John Size-trained Contentment landed Brett Prebble his first Hong Kong Group One for two seasons in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup.
Size-trained Thewizardofoz was expected to be favourite and Moreira had chosen him over Contentment but an injury kept “Thewizard” sidelined.
“I guess John found me to ride this one by a process of elimination,” said a thrilled Prebble. “I’ve been seeing the back end of Contentment for a year or two so it was nice to throw my leg over him for the first time. After I trialled him the other day, I thought he’d win even with John’s other one in the race.”
For trainer Richard Gibson, it was a day of disappointment as Giant Treasure missed a place in the Gold Cup and stable stalwart Gold-Fun didn’t show his best in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, a race he won two years ago, but the trainer himself had seen it coming.
“We know Giant Treasure isn’t as good at 2,000m and Gold-Fun is best when he’s fresh and I was concerned that it wasn’t how he was going into the race today – his fifth run for the season and he was flat,” he said.
The day seemed low-key despite the two big Group One races and a slight downturn in crowd was made up for by resilient turnover that was close to matching the 2015 edition of the meeting.
Berry’s flying return to Sha Tin for a day was happy one, but it wasn’t all plain sailing for Christophe Soumillon, who flew in to ride Giant Treasure and Gold-Fun then ended up with a suspension over an incident that saw another visiting rider, Mickael Barzalona, holding his breath for dear life at the 250m in the Gold Cup.
Not a day with a lot of joy for most horseplayers either – not a single favourite arrived on the 10-race card.