Helene Paragon faces a weighty New Year test against Hong Kong’s rising stars
Within the tough sphere of Hong Kong’s Group 3 handicaps, the line-up for Monday’s Chinese Club Challenge Cup (1400m) is about as good as it gets.
Helene Paragon (133lb), Beauty Only (132lb), Contentment (131lb) and Peniaphobia (128lb), Group 1 winners all and in full mid-season bloom, give heft to the handicap’s head; Beat The Clock (115lb), Southern Legend (115lb) and Fifty Fifty (113lb), three of Hong Kong’s brightest rising stars, bring a propitious glow to the 12-runner field’s light-weight reaches.
“I think it’s a very nice race, the young horses at the bottom have plenty of ability and they’ve shown that in their last few runs,” said Tommy Berry, who will ride the John Moore-trained Helene Paragon in pursuit of some recompense following a brilliant but futile surge down the Sha Tin straight three weeks ago.
“Helene Paragon’s definitely the best horse in the race but the weight will bring him back to them a bit - he’s going to have to not get too far out of his ground to win.” Berry said at Sha Tin this morning (Friday, 29 December).
Out of his ground was where Helene Paragon found himself in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile on 10 December. By the time Berry was able to engage the two-time G1 winner’s acceleration, stablemate Beauty Generation had stolen a march and the spoils. Helene Paragon blazed through the final 400m in a race-fastest 22.18s to finish third.
“He definitely hasn’t taken any step backwards since his last run and that was a good effort,” Berry said. “He just got too far back and we had to make a run from the back in a race that was run at a slow pace. If it was a strong pace, he’d have gone close to winning.”
Helene Paragon will drop back to 1400m for the first time this term. The Polan entire won last season’s G1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup at the course and distance under Berry.
Helene Paragon and Tommy Berry win the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup last season, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
“The big weight, at the 1400, probably just pulled him up a little bit when he tried to do it in the past, so if it was the mile I’d be a little bit more confident. But this bloke has carried weight before and run well,” the stable jockey said.
Beat The Clock, meanwhile, heads into the traditional New Year’s Day feature off a first-up win over 1200m in Class 2 on 19 November. The John Size-trained four-year-old ended his nine-race freshman campaign last term with four wins, three seconds and two thirds on his record. Champion jockey Joao Moreira has been ever-present and expects his mount to cope with this first test in Pattern grade.
“I do respect some of the others in the race, but he has good form and he deserves respect, too. I have a lot of faith in him,” the Brazilian said.
“A light weight on his back should help him a lot. He’s a horse that we’re still learning a lot about. His last run in particular, when he missed the start, gave us a better idea of how he could be ridden if he faced that same circumstance in the future - we know he’s going to be able to still deliver a good performance if that happens again.”
And Moreira believes the trip is perfect for the three-time course and distance scorer, who will break from gate two.
“I think 1400 is going to suit him better,” he said. “He’s the type of horse that finds the 1200 a touch short for him and the mile stretches him to his limit, so the 1400, in my opinion, is his best.”
That might not be the case for Fifty Fifty. The Peter Ho-trained bottom-weight posted a career-best effort when successful over a mile last start but returns to 1400m, a distance at which he has a record of one win from two starts.
“The mile is his business, so I’d be more comfortable at that trip but Peter has kept him fresh and he’s such an easy horse to ride that if I want to put him on the speed, I can, and if I want to put him to sleep, I can. So the drop back to 1400 is not too much of a worry,” jockey Karis Teetan said.
Teetan has ridden the Thorn Park five-year-old in each of his five Hong Kong starts for three wins.
“He’s improved a lot but now he’s up in class running against the big horses,” Teetan said. “But I have so much faith in him, he’s a good horse and now it’s time for him to show it. He has a little bit of an advantage with the light weight and a good draw, and he’s fresh for the 1400.
“There are horses like Beat The Clock and Southern Legend in the race on low weights, too, so it’s going to be a task, but Monday will let us know where we’re going with him.”
The Caspar Fownes-trained Southern Legend, the mount of Umberto Rispoli, took his Hong Kong tally to three wins from six starts when besting top-rated four-year-old Nothingilikemore in a Class 1 at the course and distance last time. The re-opposing G1 winner Giant’s Treasure (122lb) was a solid third.
The field also features the talented quartet of Lucky Year (123lb), Dashing Fellow (121lb), Winner’s Way (117lb) and Dundonnell (116lb).
Sunday’s 11-race action kicks off at 12.30pm with the Class 5 Kowloon Peak Handicap (1400m). The afternoon’s finale is the Class 2 Tai Mo Shan Handicap (1400m) at 5.45pm.