Japanese superstar Almond Eye is the headline act at the Dubai World Cup meeting, but an upstart from Hong Kong is hoping to scupper her international coronation.
Southern Legend doesn’t boast the same record nor draw the same plaudits, but trainer Caspar Fownes and jockey Zac Purton will be doing their best upstage the filly in Saturday’s Group One Dubai Turf (1,800m).
That is going to be a tough task, with Almond Eye all the rage in pre-post betting while many form experts think her rivals would need to start now to beat her.
But the unexpected happens in this sport – that’s why they run the race – so Purton will be out there trying his hardest.
“He’s been racing very well in Hong Kong behind our best horse, so his form is solid, but unfortunately it looks like he’s bumped into a superstar from Japan,” Purton said. “That’s not going to make his job easy but I’m sure if he can run to his best, he can run a good race.
“She’s going to most probably be behind us in the run, so there’s not point worrying about her.
“It’s one thing being here and another thing doing well. I don’t like just making up the numbers – I like to win as many races as I can. Hopefully it’s worthwhile.”
Almond Eye has won six straight races, sweeping the Japanese Fillies’ Triple Crown and capping off last year with a dominant Japan Cup victory, and is stepping out of her own country for the first time.
She is on the shortlist when discussing the best active horses in the world – alongside Winx, Enable and Hong Kong’s own Beauty Generation – and Purton, who is the rider of John Moore’s star, is keen to see what all the fuss about.
“It will give us a good a good line on where he’s at depending how Southern Legend runs – hopefully he runs to his best,” he said.
“She obviously looks very good, what she’s done in Japan has been phenomenal, culminating in that win in the Japan Cup.
“It was an unbelievable performance. She’s a very exciting horse on the global stage going forward – they’ve got big ambitions for her – she looks like she’s something very special.”
Southern Legend has raced well this season without winning, including three Group One placings behind Beauty Generation and Exultant.
The only previous occasion Purton has partnered the son of Not A Single Doubt was also overseas, winning Singapore’s Kranji Mile in dominant fashion last year.
“He’s travelled before and raced well and that gives us a little bit of confidence,” the jockey said.
Southern Legend worked in the fog on Friday morning alongside Me Tsui Yu-sak’s Fight Hero in his final piece of work before the big race.
“He’s done really well, I couldn’t be happier with him, everything’s gone superb,” Fownes said. “He’s settled in beautifully. It’s a strong race but he’s in good form and he’s here in great shape. He likes to get into a fight, he’s a very honest horse.”
Despite the high hopes from connections, the early markets from fixed-odds bookmakers suggest it is going to be tough for any of the Hong Kong horses to prevail on the marquee night.
On paper, Richard Gibson’s Wishful Thinker is the best hope at $13 in the Al Quoz Sprint, Southern Legend is rated a $17 chance – the same price Fight Hero is in the Golden Shaheen – while Gold Mount is at $19 for the Dubai Gold Cup.