Beauty Only has never been one to shine on Sha Tin’s all-weather track, so a relatively smooth passage around the inner circuit for fourth place in Friday morning’s first barrier trial was eye-catching.
“I thought his trial was quite nice,” jockey Zac Purton said after the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile hero had closed off down centre track to finish three and three-quarter lengths behind the batch one “winner” Giant Treasure, in a time of 1m 10.11s for the 1200m trip.
“We know it’s a surface that he doesn’t appreciate and he normally looks a bit average on it. This morning I asked him a little bit more because we’re going to 2000 metres next start and he responded nicely - I thought his work through the line was what we wanted.”
The Holy Roman Emperor gelding strode out in preparation for an upcoming engagement in the G1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) on 26 February. That race will see Tony Cruz’s charge attempt 10 furlongs for only the fourth time, and the first time since a below-par eighth in the December, 2015 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup.
The six-year-old also failed to fire at the distance when sixth in the 2015 BMW Hong Kong Derby, but posted a classy effort at the trip when three quarters of a length third to Military Attack in the G2 LONGINES Jockey Club Cup back in November, 2015.
And with the G1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup at 1400m being the only other immediate option for Beauty Only, connections have opted to stretch out rather than drop back in distance.
“He’s gone well at the 2000 before,” Purton said. “Obviously there’s a slight question mark, but, looking at the entries and which horses would run in each race, it felt like this could be the right time to try him at the distance again. Last start he basically beat all the horses that are going to run in the race and if he can draw a nice gate and get a good run, I think he’s capable.”
Beauty Only (pink sleeves) crosses the line fourth in today’s first trial on the dirt track, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Beauty Only is among seven entries for the second leg of Hong Kong’s Triple Crown Series. Also engaged are the race’s two-time winner Designs On Rome, Horse of the Year Werther, Blazing Speed, Secret Weapon, Flame Hero and Basic Trilogy.
“Werther was the only horse from the Stewards’ Cup that was first-up for the season in that race, so he’d obviously be open to a lot more improvement,” Purton said. “But the other horses, like Designs On Rome, he looks like he’s struggling a little bit at the moment; Blazing Speed, he’s honest but he is what he is; Secret Weapon was a bit plain last start but if he reproduces what he did on international day, he’s the horse to beat. It just looks like there’s a bit of an opportunity.”
Cruz’s crack sprinter Peniaphobia took the field along in batch one before coasting the home straight; rider Neil Callan was content to settle for two and a quarter lengths third in 1m 09.84s. The 2015 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint winner landed the G2 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m) last start and holds an entry in Dubai’s G1 Al Quoz Sprint (1200m), a race in which he has placed in the past two editions when the Meydan speed feature was staged as a 1000m contest.
“He was good this morning,” Callan said, “I just threw the reins at him. He went around there on the bridle, I didn’t ask him much in the straight and he feels in good form. That’s the first time I’ve trialled him but he felt to me like he was moving well and just going through the motions.”
The John Size-trained Contentment moved sweetly for second, clocking 1m 09.62s without exertion, as he prepares to defend the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup title he won last year. Giant Treasure, three quarters of a length to the fore, stopped the clock at 1m 09.50s and seemed to be in fine fettle ahead of that same 1400m test in nine days’ time.
Another Size galloper looked the part in batch two, also over 1200m on dirt. Last season’s Champion Miler, Sun Jewellery, successful in the Hong Kong Classic Mile and Hong Kong Classic Cup in 2016, has been well below form in recent starts but appeared to be in fine heart this morning as he too prepared for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup.
The Snitzel five-year-old travelled with verve under Purton to finish on top in his trial, a neck in front of the Cruz-trained and Callan-ridden Blazing Speed. The chestnut’s time was 1m 10.65s.
“He surprised me this morning,” Purton said of Sun Jewellery. “He’s looked like he’s been struggling a bit for form this season but his trial there suggested otherwise. He travelled really nicely, trucked his way into it with a lot of purpose and he was pretty happy with himself crossing the line. Hopefully he takes that mentality with him into his races, and, if he does, he can run well.”
The eight-strong entry for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup also features Able Friend, Helene Paragon, Blizzard, Joyful Trinity and Strathmore.
Sun Jewellery (in pink) finishes on top in batch two today at Sha Tin, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club