A reputation as a “staying specialist” is something Opie Bosson could probably do without as he pushes for a full-time licence for next season.
But is hoping Giovanni Canaletto – a horse for whom the tag fits perfectly – can kick-start the jockey’s short-term stint in Sunday’s Group One Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup.
Some of Bosson’s biggest recent wins have been in 2,400m races – most notably dual Derby triumphs and a Caulfield Cup on Mongolian Khan last year, but being a staying specialist is something of a poisoned chalice in Hong Kong racing, where sprint, mile and middle-distance features dominate the landscape.
Sunday’s HK$10 million feature is one of just three Group races held over 2,400m at Sha Tin and for one-paced import Giovanni Canaletto – by champion northern hemisphere sire Galileo and with a résumé that includes an Epsom Derby fourth and Irish Derby third – it might even be too sharp.
“I like riding stayers – but I’ve won plenty of big-race sprint races as well, and there aren’t too many staying races here,” Bosson said when asked whether anything could be read into his strong recent record in distance races. “But for this horse 2,400m will be ideal – I’ve looked at his runs, he is quite a dour type, he doesn’t slow down, he just keeps grinding away.”
The trouble for Giovanni Canaletto, of course, hasn’t been finding the line – it has been coming to terms with the stop-start tempo common in races here and a lack of acceleration at key moments.
After running on for fifth in the Hong Kong Classic Cup over 1,800m and then placing in the Hong Kong Derby over 2,000m, the entire has still been caught flat-footed when it comes time to sprint in two starts over further since.
After a last-start third as favourite in the Group Three Queen Mother Memorial Cup at 2,400m, Giovanni Canaletto was transferred to Paul O’Sullivan – and with Joao Moreira booked to ride Designs On Rome, a long-term link between trainer and jockey running back two decades to their native New Zealand meant Bosson attracted the ride.
“Opie was stable jockey for my father [Dave] and I in 1997 and 1998 when my brother Lance was badly hurt in a race fall at Moonee Valley on Cox Plate day. Opie won a couple of big races for us – he is a top-class jockey and has been for a long time,” O’Sullivan said of his countryman.
Bosson has arrived at a particularly tricky time of the season and is yet to ride a winner in 30 starts over six meetings – although genuinely strong chances for him have been scarce, with just three of those rides starting single figures in betting.
In 2003 Brett Prebble found himself in a similar situation to Bosson’s: on a short-term contract and struggling with just two wins from more than 100 rides, before the Australian rider’s win on David Oughton-trained long shot Precision in the Champions & Chater marked something of a turning point in what has since become a long and storied career.
The 35-year-old Bosson is still determined to stick around for next season and maybe it will take a similar moment in the spotlight as Prebble’s breakthrough success 13 years ago to start attracting better opportunities.
“It would be nice if it happened this weekend,” he said. “But I never get sour on things – I knew it wouldn’t be easy and I’m enjoying the challenge. It’s exactly how I thought it would be, it’s tough, but I would love the opportunity to stay a bit longer.”
Giovanni Canaletto’s chances were dealt a blow on Monday when Tony Cruz withdrew last year’s winner Helene Super Star from the race with lameness, taking away the only horse many felt would have provided any semblance of pace.
“The likely leader has come out, but we just have to hope something else bowls along in front,” Bosson said. “If they do go slow we just have to get rolling so they don’t outsprint us – but you can’t go for home from too far out.”