If Eastern Express can win Sunday’s Group Three Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse trainer John Size will be in the rare situation of welcoming a big jump in the ratings as he pushes his talented young stayer’s international day credentials.
Still rated 89, Eastern Express is widely regarded as one of the best-handicapped horses in Hong Kong, having run Sun Jewellery and Werther close as he dead-heated with Blizzard for third in the tightly contested 2016 Hong Kong Classic Cup.
A quirky handicapping rule meant Eastern Express only went up five points for that Group One performance, leaving the European-bred four-year-old rated much lower than his ability suggests, but now Size’s horse needs points to gain a run in the Longines Hong Kong Vase on December 11.
“Obviously he is a long way out of the handicaps on Sunday, but we are running in this race to try to get a start in the international race,” Size said, with Eastern Express rated 34 points less than Ladies’ Purse topweight Helene Paragon and rated eight points less than the next lowest ranked rival.
That ratings gap means that if Eastern Express is successful carrying a light weight then Size should get his wish for a horse he clearly has some time for.
“I’m not comparing my horses to Werther, but he ran a long neck to Werther, Sun Jewellery and right next to Blizzard, but wasn’t handicapped that way. That’s OK, but we thought he could be good enough to run in an international race and he can’t do that off 89.”
Even though Eastern Express failed in the BMW Hong Kong Derby over 2,000m, Size pointed to the horse’s physical immaturity at that time – the son of Fastnet Rock is only a June foal – and believes the Vase, run over 2,400m, rather than the Hong Kong Cup (2,000m), could be the most realistic target.
“That might be the race where he is most likely to earn prize money in,” Size said. “If he runs fourth in the Vase, he gets something, but if he runs in the 2,000m race he could be beaten three lengths and run 10th.
“Now I don’t know if he will get 2,400m, but he hasn’t tried and he gives some indication the distance will be fine.”
Star jockey Joao Moreira is back aboard Eastern Express after a first-up second behind Anticipation over 1,800m.
“That was a good run last start, he is carrying a little bit more weight and I think he needed that run,” Moreira said. “I think he will be 100 per cent now and from barrier three he will get every chance.”