Happy Lucky Dragon Win

Coincidences and storylines point to 'date with destiny' for Able Friend

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 June, 2015, 11:17pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 12:13pm

A coincidence cleverly spotted by a loyal Happy Lucky Dragon Win reader during the week: the name of Able Friend’s dam, Ponte Piccolo, is Italian for “little bridge”.

Of course, that was the name of the last Hong Kong-trained Royal Ascot runner, a winner of the King’s Stand Stakes on the first day three years ago.

It’s a nice omen perhaps, but this quirky little synchronicity has got nothing on the interwoven storylines in the ‘Able Friend raids Royal Ascot’ story, full of Sliding Doors moments and coincidences.

This story has a trainer, John Moore, for whom the handler of Able Friend’s main rival is a childhood friend; a jockey, Joao Moreira, who overcame myriad obstacles just to get out of childhood poverty; and an owner, Cornel Li Fook-kwan, with a rich family history with the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Oh, and a massive horse whose dominance has sent shockwaves through Sha Tin.

Throw it all together and Able Friend’s sporting tilt at Tuesday’s Queen Anne Stakes has a “date with destiny” feel.

Last weekend at Newmarket there was immense media focus on Able Friend, the gargantuan gelding nicknamed 大笨象 – elephant – by Moore’s Cantonese-speaking stable staff.

Yet, coincidently, he wasn’t the only Hong Kong-trained international Group One winner in town. In fact, for just a few hours, there were three – and one of them was there, at least in part, because of Able Friend’s overwhelming presence in the mile category at Sha Tin.

In the days leading up to the biggest race of Able Friend’s career, Moore – stationed at the stables of Michael Bell – was swamped with media requests for time with the 2014 Longines Hong Kong Mile winner. It became so constant, he even had to consider slapping a media ban of sorts on his star.

At the same time, the dominant winner of the 2013 Longines Hong Kong Mile, Glorious Days, slipped into the stables of Ed Walker, on the other side of town, without fanfare.

Glorious Days had put together some disappointing performances earlier this season, and with limited chances to find a mile race sans the all-conquering Able Friend, owners looked overseas for an opportunity.

Walker has nothing to lose with Glorious Days, his owners happy to retire him completely if the gelding doesn’t show his former spark.

In the nearby village of Brinkley, two-time Group One winner Eagle Regiment made a brief stopover, having just shared a flight with Glorious Days. The big straight-track sprinter was on his way to a happy retirement in Cheshire.

The inspiring but somewhat sad story of how Eagle Regiment got there is best saved for another day, but is a reminder of how some champions are easily forgotten by some, yet unforgettable to others.

There is the Magic Man, Moreira, who revealed in an SCMP article on Monday that he wasn’t meant to be here at all and was born after his mother underwent a (clearly unsuccessful) sterilisation procedure. Even forgetting his miraculous birth, the likelihood of the Brazilian making it out of his upbringing to become one of the greatest jockeys in the world was a long shot.

Also in the category of almost never coming into existence is Able Friend’s owner Li, part of a famous Jockey Club family.

Long before Li’s father, Li Lan-sang, emerged as one of Hong Kong’s most prominent owners and patriarch of one of the most successful racing families, he was trapped under fallen matsheds during the Happy Valley racetrack fire in 1918. Reports from the time suggested a passer-by rescued him from almost certain death.

But perhaps the most interesting snippet of all is the relationship between Moore and the trainer of Able Friend’s main rival Solow, Freddy Head. The history between the Moore and Head families stretches well over half a century.

Moore and Head have known each other since they were children, from when Moore’s father, George, rode in France for Head’s trainer-father Alec.

“The families go back to 1959. Dad rode for the Aly Khan and he only left because the Aly Khan was killed in a car crash near Saint-Cloud,” Moore explained.

“Dad wasn’t sure if his son, the Aga Khan, would continue to follow on with what his father had done with horses. Alec wasn’t sure either and, for that reason, Dad decided to leave.

“Our families were very close. We would be around each other as kids – we lived at Green Lodge up there at Chantilly.”

John’s brother, Gary, later went to France to become retained rider for Alec Head, winning the 1981 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for the trainer on Gold River and riding against Freddy.

The younger Head, though, describes the Moore brothers as “great friends”.

“We spent a lot of time around each other as children and I have great memories of them. John is a nice man and has had a hell of a career.”

Moore wondered aloud during the week about the twists of fate that have him on the brink of history.

“Who knows how things would have turned out if we hadn’t left France then?” he said.

“It’s amazing how this has come full circle. Now we find ourselves here, on the world stage, racing each other with what look like two great champions.”