He was standing right here three years ago but John Moore’s view of the Classic Cup on Sunday is probably best described as similar but different as his star four-year-olds gather again to sort out 2017 Hong Kong Derby favouritism.
In the Classic Cup of 2014, Moore’s Able Friend was sent out the 1.7 favourite after his Classic Mile win over Designs On Rome and Moore told the press he expected the big gelding to prevail.
“He’ll get the 1,800m on his head. Maybe Designs On Rome might get a little closer to him over the extra 200m, but I would think the major difference between this race and the Classic Mile will be that Joao Moreira might have to give Able Friend a couple of slaps with the whip, just to remind him to get to the line,” Moore said at the time.
But the extra 200m proved a stumbling block for Able Friend and his stayer stablemate turned the tables on him, there and again in the Derby.
This year, it’s the brilliant Rapper Dragon who is taking the first step in his career beyond a mile while stablemates Beauty Generation and Eagle Way are already proven stayers but Moore says the pre-race setup is where the similarities end.
“No, I don’t think it’s the same thing – sure, Rapper Dragon has never been tested at 1,800m but he is so clean-winded, he relaxes so well and then goes through his gears so fast, I don’t think there is any doubt about him at 1,800m or 2,000m in the Derby,” Moore said.
“I think Rapper Dragon is one out of the hat – a 125 to 130-rater and the best of what I think is a new elite brigade. He worked brilliantly this morning and he looks fantastic.”
Rapper Dragon (ex Street Rapper) soars in $10m HK Classic Mile from Seasons Bloom (ex Le Capitaine) & Beauty Generation (ex Montaigne) pic.twitter.com/yRVF2tZcrS— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 22, 2017
There’s no guessing game as to the stable pick but Moore said he is just as happy with his dangerous stablemates too.
“Both worked well this morning – it’s great to be going into a race like this with what I think are the top three chances, with Seasons Bloom the other one,” Moore said.
“Zac Purton got off Beauty Generation this morning and said he has no doubt he will be better suited going further on Sunday and Eagle Way – well, he’s probably more a 2,400m horse, even a 3,200m horse, so he needs the extra trip.”
Like Able Friend, Rapper Dragon will certainly head out for the race as a clear favourite and only one outright favourite has won the Classic Cup in 11 renewals, with regular double digit-priced winners, all the way up to 125-1 for the John Size-trained It Has To Be You in 2013.
But maybe, with an eye to the grand final in the Derby, it’s not a bad race to lose – only Ambitious Dragon and Designs On Rome have done that double.
Moore noted how the tide has turned for his Derby aspirants in the past two years.
This year all of his Classic Cup runners, including the runt of the team at this stage, Rodrico, are southern hemisphere-bred as opposed to a mix of north and south, or even a heavy northern hemisphere accent to them not so long ago.
“I ran the Derby quinella with southern hemisphere horses last year and this year they are all from there,” Moore said. “We found that once Godolphin appeared in the market in the northern hemisphere buying tried horses that they just became too expensive so we changed direction.”
Meanwhile, stewards are hoping to reconvene early next week the inquiry adjourned at Happy Valley on Wednesday night. Jockey Chad Schofield faces a grilling over his handling of Ambitious Pins in the final race.