Rattan has posted a series of exciting performances in the handicap grades this term and on Sunday the late-dashing gelding will test his mettle against the best of his peers in the set-weights HK$10 million Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m).
Richard Gibson’s charge is one of five horses among the feature’s 13 entrants that will enter the Four-Year-Old Classic Series fray having side-stepped last month’s opener, the Hong Kong Classic Mile. The last horse to succeed off such a preparation was Ambitious Dragon, seven years ago.
Comparisons with one of Hong Kong’s all-time greats are best left there. But there is no question that Rattan’s profile makes him an interesting new contender against the four-year-old standout and Classic Mile victor, Nothingilikemore.
“Rattan’s an excellent athlete,” Gibson said. “His preparation this year has been really good, he races well and I’m very happy with him.”
The Savabeel gelding tied up a hat-trick of Class 3 wins at Sha Tin over 1400m and a mile earlier this term before coming up a half-length short behind Time To Celebrate in a 1600m Class 2 in December. Late last month, the New Zealand-bred stormed home from deep for second-place behind the pace-stealing Sergeant Titanium in a 1800m Class 2 - his closing 400m splits in both races were faster than any of his rivals.
“I guess there’s a degree of frustration that the horse has run well in his last two races and we haven’t won either of those races. That’s not any blame on the jockey, it’s just the way the races shaped up,” Gibson said.
Rattan scores at Sha Tin in November, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Chad Schofield partnered Rattan in all of those races but will side with Hong Kong Classic Mile runner-up Singapore Sling on Sunday, with Alexis Badel taking the reins instead.
Rattan’s performances have lifted the second season galloper from 64 to 88 in the ratings. But his current peak is still 24 points shy of Nothingilikemore, a likely short-priced favourite on Sunday.
“It’s for Rattan to prove his worth,” Gibson said. “I think the only thing that’s important is the horse’s race-record and his record is excellent. In an ideal world, you would have preferred him to have a few more (ratings) points going into a big race like this.”
Gibson is two-handed as he seeks a Four-Year-Old Classic Series full set: the handler took the Hong Kong Classic Mile and BMW Hong Kong Derby in 2013 with Gold-Fun and Akeed Mofeed, respectively. His other contender is Goldfield, a two-time G1 winner (dirt and turf) in Argentina and fourth in South America’s standout all-age feature, the G1 Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini (2400m).
The Heliostatic gelding finished down the field in his first two Hong Kong outings but showed up better last time when seventh in a 1650m Class 2 handicap at Happy Valley behind Dinozzo.
“Goldfield has been on a long journey and I thought his last race was encouraging,” Gibson said. “Two thousand metres-plus will be an ideal trip for the horse - his form in Argentina was good, but we’re a long way from Argentina.”
As well as Rattan and Goldfield, the five step-up runners include The Golden Age, Doctor Geoff and Beauty Miles.
The Hong Kong Classic Cup is also set to feature Classic Mile third Morethanlucky, and the strong-closing fourth, Exultant. G1 winners Rivet and Ruthven will attempt to improve on their middling Classic Mile efforts, while Grand Chancellor and Patriot Hero are also slated for an attempt to close the gap on the impressive Nothingilikemore.
Goldfield won two G1s in Argentina when named He Runs Away, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club