Courtesy of the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s live streaming of international track work, California trainer Peter Miller was able this morning to watch his G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) contender Stormy Liberal go through his paces at Sha Tin Racecourse.
Miller, still able to delight in his two Breeders’ Cup wins in November, has entrusted the final Hong Kong preparation of Stormy Liberal – one of his two Del Mar winners – to his friend and fellow trainer Dan Blacker, but is readily able to monitor the progress of the gelded son of Stormy Atlantic.
Stormy Liberal stretching out on the turf, photo Liesl King
And he was pleased with what he saw online today: “He looked well to my eye and travelled well within himself. It was a good leg stretcher and he handled the ground. The team is telling me the horse is doing really well and his energy levels are high. We're hoping for a good draw and if he gets that, I think he'll perform well.”
Stormy Liberal worked over 600m in 39.8s, coming home the last 200m in 12.4s. “He wasn’t out to break the clock but worked well and Silvestre (de Sousa) was pleased with how he felt,” he said.
The temptation in Hong Kong is to dismiss the chances of American-trained horses given their lack of familiarity with racing right-handed, but Miller is hopeful that won’t be an issue for his five-year-old who has won five of his past six starts.
“Going right-handed is always a question and there are a lot of things to overcome as an American horse in a very different racing environment, but we breezed him three times, at home, going what we would call the wrong way and he was fine; switching leads on queue. Today was the fourth time and he was good again,” he said.
“The going and the distance will suit him in Hong Kong and he’s the right horse to try with. He’s not a bleeder, he doesn’t need Lasix.”
Stormy Liberal’s five wins in 2017 sees him enter with near flawless form this year but for one failure at Belmont in June, but Miller is prepared to forgive that performance: “He missed the break that day and was then rushed up. That’s never a successful tactical move. He was probably also tailing off by then after a long campaign but he’s very sharp again now.
“He came out of the Breeders’ Cup fresh and sharp and that’s why we looked at Hong Kong. He’d had almost five months off before the Breeders Cup and the race didn’t take too much out of him,” he said.
Miller concedes it’s difficult for him to precisely understand the form of his rivals but suspects his horse, who he refers to simply as Stormy, will measure up.
“Even reading the form is different but I’d say he fits well with this group. They look evenly matched as best as I can work out and I think Stormy is absolutely good enough, as I said, if he gets the good draw and the good trip,” Miller said.
Stormy Liberal is tactically versatile according to his trainer. “He’s won on the lead and from coming off the pace. You’d like to draw the inner half of the field to have options,” he said.
Miller said home commitments had prevented him from making the trip to Hong Kong. “I’ve got a big barn of 80 horses to look after and we’re prepping a filly for a Grade 1 here on Saturday. Dan and his wife Christina are good friends of ours and it’s a quiet time for Dan at the moment so it made sense for them to go on a working holiday,” he said.
Miller’s Saturday Grade 1 contender is War Heroine in the Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos. The Lonhro filly won on debut, by almost seven lengths, when ridden by America’s LONGINES IJC representative Flavien Prat.
Only two previous Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winners have contested the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint and each finished fifth – Mongolian Saturday in 2015 and California Flag in 2009.