Southern Legend is capable of making his mark in the Group 1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup at Sha Tin Racecourse on Sunday. That’s the view of the smart galloper’s big-race pilot, Umberto Rispoli.
But the Italian ace has inserted a pertinent caveat to an otherwise optimistic assessment ahead of the HK$10 million contest: “The only thing making me worried is the distance; the 1400 metres is going to be sharper than ideal for him.”
A cursory look at Southern Legend’s form might make Rispoli’s view seem skewed: five 1200m starts in Hong Kong for two wins at Happy Valley, the latest as recently as October; two runs at 1400m, featuring a December victory over Nothingilikemore at Sha Tin; and all of that after a nine-race, four-win career in Australia during which the bay never stepped out beyond 1300m.
“I reckon he won’t show at the 1400 what he will at the mile or probably the 1800,” Rispoli said. “I think the 1400 is short - we know he won over 1200 at Happy Valley but that’s just because he’s a good horse, his class made a difference.”
And the crux of Rispoli’s point is that the gelding’s class was most evident late last month in the G1 Stewards’ Cup, Southern Legend’s first attempt at a mile. Trainer Caspar Fownes’s emerging stable star rattled home from the tail to finish fourth, one length behind the victorious Seasons Bloom. The performance raised his local rating by 10 points to a career peak of 118.
“It was a very good run. It was the fastest section in the race,” said Rispoli, recalling a surging final 400m timed at 22.59s.
Southern Legend (inside) edges out Nothingilikemore in a Class 1 1400m race last December, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
While Sunday’s race distance might not be the five-year-old’s ideal, his rider is going in with a positivity rooted in the knowledge that Southern Legend is a horse still on the up, with enough quality to be a contender should things fall his way.
“Now, to say he’ll win a Group 1 on Sunday, it’s not silly, because when you go for a race like this, you go to win, and you see what the limit is of the horse. With a nice draw, he’s going to be competitive, there’s going to be some pace in the race, I’m not worried about that, and that will give him a chance,” he said.
“I’d like to have a nice draw, just to be midfield. Every time you have to run from behind and give him a huge run, of course there are only a few horses that like to keep running like that. I’d like to give him the same race as when I beat Nothingilikemore, sit on the fence, give him a good run on the corner and just give him a run in the straight.”
Rispoli has ridden Southern Legend in each of his last three races and was up top for a recent barrier trial in which the Not A Single Doubt gelding ran on well behind Sunday’s rival Beat The Clock.
“The last time I trialled him I got a flying shoe in the face but he was good,” the jockey said. (That incident resulted in nothing more than a cracked face visor, luckily). “Even in that trial on the dirt he gave me a nice kick - I didn’t ask too much but when I asked to see if there was something under there, he responded very well.”
Distance concern aside, Rispoli is happy with his mount ahead of the weekend.
“Caspar has the horse very healthy and he’s improving race to race,” he said. “Since that race when he beat Nothingilikemore, he’s another horse, he’s more mature, he’s built more muscle.
“He went against the big boys in the 1400 Group 3 (Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap) at the beginning of January but the second time he went against them, in the Stewards’ Cup, he was better than the first,” he continued. “The first time I got a little check at the beginning of the straight but the horse still ran a very good last 400 metres. Last run, I wasn’t surprised because I could feel in his trials that he was getting better and better.”
The Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup is also set to feature last year’s victor Helene Paragon alongside G1 winners Beauty Generation, Beauty Only, Giant Treasure and Peniaphobia. A clutch of exciting emerging talents in the field also includes Fifty Fifty, Pingwu Spark and Western Express, while Joyful Trinity completes the 11 entries.
Also on Sunday’s top-class card is the G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m).