Trainer Tony Millard is dreaming big after his dirt specialist Elusive State put an overseas trip squarely on the agenda with a dominant display in the Class One Egret Handicap (1,650m) at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Aided by a brilliant ride from star jockey Joao Moreira, Elusive State bounced back to his best to take out the first 1,650m Class One on the all-weather track in more than five years, a race put on as a launching pad for those horses targeting features abroad.
With a dearth of options for top-level dirt horses in Hong Kong, the South African is now hoping to send the seven-year-old to the Middle East for next month’s $20 million (HK$155 million) Saudi Cup (1,800m) and/or the $12 million (HK$93 million) Dubai World Cup (2,000m) in March.
“It’s just lovely to have a horse like this but also to have a dream and that’s what it’s about,” Millard said. “It’s about having a goal and trying to get there and seeing if it comes off. If it doesn’t we’ll go to plan two, but definitely plan one now is overseas.”
Brilliant ride!— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 17, 2021
An accomplished steer from Joao Moreira gets Elusive State home in today's dirt feature, stalking his claims for a Dubai campaign in March. @DubaiWorldCup #HKracing pic.twitter.com/TdFKbgEsS2
While Covid-19 means the logistics and quarantine requirements of those options are still up in the air – particularly when it comes to Saudi Arabia – Millard would love to have Elusive State in the world’s richest race.
“One would have liked to have gone to Saudi … that would be the actual race for him,” he said. “You never know, the [Jockey] Club said they can move mountains, let’s see them do that, because I think Saudi would be the number one choice and Dubai number two.
“[If we go to Dubai] we’ll definitely be going for the World Cup instead of the [Godolphin] Mile, because Joao feels that with him losing his early speed, he reckons that will be the right race for him.”
Moreira’s mid-race move proved a masterstroke, sweeping around the field from last down the back to put pressure on $1.70 favourite Kings Shield (Zac Purton).
Frankie Lor Fu-chuen’s charge couldn’t respond to the challenge and fell away early in the home straight with Elusive State going on to win convincingly as Encore Boy and Red Desert filled the minor placings.
“That’s why he’s a champion – he saw he was in a hopeless position,” Millard said of Moreira’s move. “But that’s the class of the horse. Although we changed the tactics, he still kicked on. He can run 21 [seconds] for the last 400m any day of the week. I was very happy with the run.”
That was Elusive State’s first win since October 2019 but that is more of a reflection on circumstances, most notably the fact he was already in the United Arab Emirates when last year’s Dubai World Cup meeting was cancelled because of the pandemic.
“It’s taken a bit of time to get him back into form. Last year we hardly raced him and with Dubai coming and going, it really upset the apple cart and it took me time just to get him back into it,” Millard said.
“Of course, when you run him on the grass, you see nothing – any good dirt horse, they’re not in that Group One league. But quite clearly he gave them a galloping lesson here today.
“So we’ll just see what happens from here on. These races come very quickly – it’s not far away – but I don’t think he could have had a better run-in than this, I’m quite excited. If we can just keep him together now and keep him happy, he’s going to be a big runner.”