Western Express will line up in Sunday’s Hong Kong Jockey Club Community Trophy (1400m) at Sha Tin as one of a handful of exciting rising stars targeting the Class 1 contest as the next step on the ladder towards open Group race company.
John Size’s talented charge, like his weekend rivals Limitless (120lb) and California Whip (119lb), chanced his arm in the Four-Year-Old Classic Series earlier this year, only to find Rapper Dragon a cut above in the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m). On Sunday, the Encosta De Lago gelding will attempt to notch a third straight win under champion jockey Joao Moreira.
It has been a busy campaign so far for Western Express (132lb); the Australian import has tallied four wins - three at the course and distance - from eight starts since mid-November, the latest a battling head verdict at the trip over the pugilistic New Asia Sunrise, who stalked the lead and only just failed in an attempt to steal the race from the top of the home stretch. Western Express mowed down that rival late on with a surge from mid-pack and earned a six-point rating hike to a mark of 107, having started the campaign on 72.
“Western Express ran pretty well, I think the leaders were probably suited on the day and it was difficult for a horse to come from back in the field,” Size said. “He did a good job and he toughed it out to win the race. He came at them like he was going to win and he did, so I thought he did exceptionally well.”
Size is hopeful that Western Express still has more to give this term and is ready to roll again three weeks on from that run.
“He still seems ok; he’s still bright enough and fresh enough and he looks pretty healthy so I think we can run him again and expect him to run well again,” the eight-time champion trainer said.
Western Express (inside) gets the better of New Asia Sunrise to land back-to-back wins last start, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
But this season’s Premiership leader would like to see the four-year-old sharpen up at the gate.
“I think he’s certainly not clean at the start, that’s for sure; he doesn’t jump as well as what you might want him to. But, in saying that, in the shorter races he gets back worse than midfield anyway. At present, it’s not harming him too much but that will have to improve as he goes up into tougher company.”
One rival that could step into open Group race action soon is last year’s Britannia Handicap winner Limitless, the mount of Umberto Rispoli. Peter Ho’s charge was yesterday announced among the 14 entries for the 7 May G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m), the fourth leg of the Global Sprint Challenge.
California Whip, third behind Limitless at Royal Ascot last June, is not the holder of a fancy entry just yet but Matthew Chadwick has little doubt that the Giant’s Causeway gelding is a high-class athlete.
“He’s a good horse and I think he’s a black type horse,” the jockey said. “I’m not sure how he would handle a wet track, so that might be a concern on Sunday, but the 1400 metres, to me, that’s his go.”
California Whip impressed at 1200m on Sha Tin’s dirt track when successful at his third Hong Kong start back in January. A solid but seemingly non-staying fifth in the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) followed and Tony Cruz’s charge appeared to be slightly jaded when seventh in a 1200m Class 2 on the dirt on 1 March.
“He’s been freshened up a bit since that last run, which has done him good after a tough campaign,” Chadwick said. “We know he has quality and on a fast track he’d be sure to be in the shake-up at this distance, but any rain in the ground would raise a question mark.”
The nine-runner field also features Lucky Year (133lb), who will benefit from Matthew Poon’s 10lb allowance, Fight Hero (117lb), the mount of 7lb claimer Jack Wong, Gonna Run (116lb), Lucky Girl (116lb) under 10lb apprentice Dylan Mo, Midnight Rattler (116lb), and another four-year-old, People’s Knight (116lb).