The season's opening big handicaps are a minefield for returning top graders and John Moore is not expecting tomorrow's Group Three Celebration Cup, 1,400m, to prove any exception for his Horse Of The Year, Designs On Rome.

Since the turn of the century, only Ambitious Dragon (2011) and Fairy King Prawn (2001) resumed as the reigning Horse Of The Year and took out this race, previously called the National Day Cup. The big names are frequently upstaged and there have been winners at double figures in seven of the 15 runnings, all the way up to 70-1.

On Wednesday, Amber Sky, Sterling City and Charles The Great had to bow to the lightweights down the straight course, and the leading money trainer in town saddles up almost half the field tomorrow leaning the same way with his team.

We've already seen with Designs On Rome's last preparation that he was much better with a run under the belt
John Moore

"It should be the lightweights again coming to the fore. A horse like Secret Sham, who is working the place down and carries 115 pounds, looks really well-suited out of my team," said Moore, who also sends out Designs On Rome, Hong Kong Vase winner Dominant, Flagship Shine and Rewarding Hero.

"We see it every year - this race is on the short side for many of the big boys, they have plenty of weight to concede without being at their top, so it isn't easy for them to win these early races," he said.

"We've already seen with Designs On Rome's last preparation that he was much better with a run under the belt. Actually, I'm happy with the progress of all of mine here with a view to the big targets in a few months, but the reality is that these horses have to start off somewhere, and there is nowhere else to go.

"The programme towards the international races is laid out for us. They'll run here, the Sha Tin Trophy over a mile at the end of the month then the various trial races in November and then on to December."

Moore has not had the best of fortunes lately with his major horses, as Dan Excel's Cox Plate campaign in Australia has been severely hampered by illness, Able Friend suffered a training setback and the severe interference to Sterling City midweek cost him a placing.

"It hasn't been the best of runs, but I can report that Able Friend is back on track.

"He is over that little strain he had and he'll have a gallop on Saturday, and will have his first race back in the Premier Bowl on the 26th," Moore said.

"Dan Excel galloped Friday and he's OK to run next week over 1,400m at Caulfiel,d but I'm very conservative as far as expectations on him in that race.

"He needed a very aggressive course of antibiotics to get him over the sore throat that set him back and that kind of treatment can flatten a horse, so we'll see how he handles it."