Group 1 Queensland Derby winner Ruthven will make his Hong Kong debut at Sha Tin on New Year’s Day, the top-class prospect’s step-out run being the day’s 11th and last event, the Class 2 Tai Mo Shan Handicap.
The 1400m contest could provide more than one thread of insight into this year’s Four-Year-Old Classic Series with fellow aspiring imports Lockheed, Cheerful Giggles, Patriot Hero and Perfect To Play also in the 14-runner line-up.
Ruthven, though, will command a large slice of attention. The eye-catching black colt is perceived to be the leading light among trainer John Moore’s classic crop.
“He’s a very nice horse,” jockey Tommy Berry said at Sha Tin on Friday.
“John has a few very nice types and Easy Go Easy Win won well the other day, but Ruthven and Good Standing are probably the two of his that stand out at the moment.
“Ruthven’s obviously got a lot of quality about himself and he’s had two trials that have put him in good stead for the weekend.”
The first of those trials was a smooth breeze over 1000m of Sha Tin’s turf straight on December 12. The Domesday four-year-old was an easy fifth past the post that morning, one position behind the Queensland Derby runner-up, Cheerful Giggles, formerly known as Rockstar Rebel. Ruthven’s second trial, seven days ago, was a contrast – 1200m on dirt, niggled along to beat one home.
“He’s probably never done hard work on the dirt before; all of his main strong gallops have been down the back straight on grass or his turf trial,” Berry said.
“We were pleased with the turf trial and he pulled up well from his recent dirt trial. He had a very nice gallop down the back with the blinkers on yesterday (Thursday). He was very sharp in that piece of work.”
Berry expects Ruthven to come on for his debut run, having not raced since his top-flight breakthrough at start 10 in Australia back in June.
“He’s probably going to be short of his best at the 1400 metres, he’s going to be better over further, and he’ll take a lot out of the run fitness-wise. We’re pleased with the way he’s come along and we’ve elected to put the blinkers on at the 1400 just to keep him as sharp as we can,” he said.
Hong Kong’s four-year-olds will take centre stage through the next three months, with the best of the circuit’s young talents jostling for supremacy on the road to the BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) in mid-March, via January’s Hong Kong Classic Mile (1600m) and the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) a month later.
Against Ruthven in Monday’s Class 2 finale, Joao Moreira will maintain his partnership with the Danny Shum-trained Lockheed, G1-placed in Ireland at two and runner-up in the G2 German 2,000 Guineas at his last start in May. The grey made a good impression on his first Hong Kong start when fifth over 1200m three weeks ago.
Moreira, meanwhile, will partner another exciting four-year-old in race eight, the Class 3 Sunset Peak Handicap (1400m). The John Size-trained Conte (122lb) is two from two, having debuted in November.
“Conte’s a lovely horse and he’s done nothing wrong so far, so I’m confident about him for Monday,” Moreira said, but the champion jockey opined that the Starcraft gelding might not make it to the Four-Year-Old Classic Series.
“I think it might come too soon for him,” he said. “If we’re talking about the Derby, he’d have to win twice, at least, before that. And he’d have to win very easily because you need to be at least 90-rated to get a run and he’s a bit far from that. To be able to catch up that amount of racing and be able to be competitive in the Derby is a little too much for him to do. To me, he’s a very good horse and with time we’re going to see him have a very high rating.”
Conte cruised first past the post in a 1200m dirt track barrier trial on December 19, with Wednesday night’s Happy Valley winner and BMW Hong Kong Derby prospect Singapore Sling in second.
“I was extremely happy with his barrier trial,” Moreira said. “He always does things straightforward and his trial the other day was impressive as he won it very easily on the bridle. He’s certainly going into the race very well in himself and he’s giving me as much confidence as I would want to have.”
Monday’s card features the G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m) in which G1 winners Helene Paragon, Beauty Only, Contentment, Peniaphobia and Giant Treasure will take on the lightly-weighted rising stars Beat The Clock, Southern Legend and Fifty Fifty.
News from Grant Morgan, HKJC