Trainer Chris So hopes that Classic Emperor can continue his progression on dirt and possibly open up more options for the future when he contests Saturday’s Class 2 Hong Kong Shipowners Association 60th Anniversary Cup Handicap (1650m) on the Sha Tin all-weather track.
By Medaglia d’Oro out of stakes-placed mare Worship The Moon, Classic Emperor (133lb) has one of the most striking dirt pedigrees in Hong Kong. So finally unleashed the American-bred galloper on the surface at start 26.
“He showed me in his trials and his gallops that he handled the dirt, but it was just about waiting for the right time to go there,” So said at Sha Tin on Friday morning (12 January).
That night in November, over the same course and distance as Saturday’s race, Classic Emperor – a four-time winner on turf – raced clear for a six and three-quarter length success. At his second start on the surface last month, over an unsuitable 1200m, he flew home to finish third to the reopposing Fight Hero and last weekend’s G3 placegetter House Of Fun.
“I really like him, he’s in good form,” he said. “He’s got a draw that’s OK (gate seven). I think he’ll run well. Even at his last run over 1200m, he showed his ability on dirt, so I really hope he runs well.”
So had his first overseas runner last year when Fabulous One contested two races at the Dubai World Cup Carnival, and he has long suggested that Classic Emperor could be his next potential international challenger. The trainer has previously mentioned races like the G1 February Stakes (1600m) at Tokyo Racecourse on 18 February and the G2 Godolphin Mile (1600m) at Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse on 31 March as possible targets for the six-year-old, but he was reticent to commit to any plans on Friday morning.
“Let’s see how he runs on Saturday,” So said. “I will speak to the owner and we will determine what to do. The owner has told me he wants to see how he does on Saturday; if he runs well, we will start to plan something, maybe Dubai.”
Keith Yeung, who has a perfect record from one ride on Classic Emperor, will be in the saddle.
Classic Emperor lands a stylish victory over 1650m on dirt two starts ago, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
His last-start conqueror Fight Hero (130lb) has won three of his last five starts on dirt, but he finished a distant last at his one try at the 1650m on the surface. The Me Tsui-trained galloper was ridden last time out by Umberto Rispoli, who instead finds himself on stablemate Divine Boy (123lb) in this contest.
“I actually think the 1650m would be much better for Fight Hero than the 1200m, no matter what the form says,” Rispoli said of the Footstepsinthesand gelding, who will be partnered by Vincent Ho. “Every time over the 1200m, he’s off the bridle, you have to chase him and rush him. Last time, he showed a nice sprint once he got out and he reeled in House Of Fun, who is having a great season. I think if Fight Hero can jump out from his nice draw (three) and sit just behind the speed, he can run an honest race.
“However, it happens that I’m on Divine Boy and I’m happy to be on him. He’s probably better being topweight in Class 3 than he is at the bottom of Class 2, but he has won in Class 2 so it’s possible. The dirt treats him well, he races nicely every time. The draw (12) is not the best so we will just take our time and give him the chance to finish off. He does meet Classic Emperor 14 pounds better off for their meeting two starts ago so hopefully he gets his chance.”
Making his dirt debut is John Size’s Prawn Baba (123lb). The Duke Of Marmalade five-year-old trialled over 1200m on the all-weather track on Tuesday morning (9 January), with raceday rider Sam Clipperton reporting that he was pleased with how he handled the surface.
“He felt good on the dirt,” Clipperton said. “He’s had a lot of trials on the dirt, I think that was his ninth the other day, but he’s never raced on it. He’s got a perfect gate (one) and he should get every chance to be competitive.”
The 10-race Sha Tin card gets underway with the Class 5 Hong Kong Shipowners Association Handicap (1400m) at 1pm, with the Hong Kong Shipowners Association 60th Anniversary Cup Handicap the seventh race at 4.05pm.