Geoff Lester column


International Affairs: London – Wednesday’s HK$800,000 International Jockeys Challenge at Happy Valley is the richest of its kind anywhere on the globe.

Frenchman Pierre-Charles Boudot can emulate South African Gavin Lerena by taking the trophy, despite never having previously ridden on the track.

This popular event, staged at a unique racecourse which is situated right in the middle of town, serves as the perfect appetiser for Hong Kong’s biggest racing day of the year next Sunday.

With four Group 1 races and a massive international presence, Sha Tin’s “turf world championships” boast prize money exceeding HK$84-million, and the record-breaking Aidan O’Brien bids to close the incredible career of Highland Reel in the Vase, in which victory would be the trainer’s 28th at the top table during 2017.

Highland Reel won this race two years ago – strangely O’Brien’s sole success from 13 attempts at this prestigious meeting – and was also runner-up last year.

He has been a magnificent flagbearer for the Coolmore team and, with a cloud hanging over Japanese challenger Kiseki, who is suffering from ringworm, Ryan Moore, who felt the globetrotting superstar “ran flat” in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, in which he was no match for French-trained Talismanic, is hopeful that Highland Reel can sign off in style before heading to the breeding shed.

However, Highland Reel has to reverse Del Mar form with Talismanic, whose trainer, Andre Fabre, only ever travels his horses when he believes they have a serious chance.

Not that all Gallic punters are convinced Talismanic can beat fellow French raider Tiberian, who already has two decisions over his countryman on home turf this season.

Tiberian, a son of stallion teaser Tiberius Caesar, did well to finish seventh in the Melbourne Cup in view of the fact that he was drawn wide in stall 22 in the 23-runner field at Flemington last month.

Trainer Alain Couetil, who was previously assistant to Fabre, is having his first runner outside France but is happy how well Tiberian has settled down in Hong Kong.

Furthermore, Tiberian has the services of ace veteran jockey Olivier Peslier, who has an enviable record in these Longines-sponsored international races, having won seven from just 33 starts, only one fewer than Gerald Mosse.

But for an Eachway punt I am going for GOLD MOUNT, whose jockey Zac Purton, who gave the locals their only success in this race on Dominant in 2013, has deserted his Melbourne Cup third Max Dynamite to be reunited with Gold Mount.

Known as Primitivo when he was a Royal Ascot winner in Britain, Gold Mount was doing all his best work at the finish when runner-up to Hong Kong Horse of the Year Werther in the Jockey Club Gold Cup here last month.

That race was over 2000m, but Gold Mount is much more effective over this 2400m, and with Werther a strong favourite for the Hong Kong Cup Purton reckons he has the form to repel the overseas challenge.

The home side have managed to retain the HK$25-million Cup, the richest 2000m turf race in the world, only six times in 18 runnings, and Werther will have to be on his A-game to see off a strong Japanese challenge, plus a major player of Sir Michael Stoute’s in POET’S VOICE, who beat all except Cracksman – Europe’s top-rated colt this year – in the Champion Stakes at Ascot.

John Moore thinks Werther has improved for his last race – “that was the dress-rehearsal and his whole preparation has been geared with the Cup in mind” – but, while Ryan Moore is claimed for O’Brien’s Deauville, he has never disguised the lofty opinion he has about Poet’s Voice, and Stoute is the master at getting horses to peak on the big day.

The locals have won 10 of the last 11 runnings of the Hong Kong Mile, and Joao Moreira, universally known as Magic Man, remains loyal to Jockey Club Mile winner Seasons Bloom,

However, last year’s winner BEAUTY ONLY has been brought along steadily with eyes on a repeat celebration, and I fancy he can turn the tables on Seasons Bloom here. Coolmore’s Breeders Cup third Lancaster Bomber might be the main threat.

Hong Kong are also traditionally hard to beat in the Sprint, winning the race 12 times in the last 15 years.

Mr Stunning, who overcame a poor draw to win the Jockey Club Cup here last month, is a worthy favourite, but LUCKY BUBBLES, who was market-leader for that race, got stopped more times than a late-night taxi in Wan Chai, and, while his style of racing means that he will always be a hostage to fortune, if he does get the breaks this time his finishing kick could prove decisive.

In the UK, all eyes at Lingfield on Wednesday will be on TOAST OF NEW YORK, the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up who was retired after injuring a tendon and has been standing at stud in the Middle East, having been bought by Qatari-based Al Shaqab Racing after his brilliant run at Santa Anita.

Toast Of New York, who also won the UAE Derby at Meydan that same season, will be having his first race for 1,130 days when he lines up for the 2000m conditions race on the Polytrack.

Frankie Dettori has been booked, and, though Toast Of New York will celebrate his seventh birthday next month, he has precious little mileage on the clock, and Jamie Osborne, while conceding he “will be race rusty”, hopes the horse’s class will enable him to see off his four opponents.

However, the banker at Lingfield could be TEMERAIRE in the nursery. She was hugely impressive when winning over 1200m here last month and looks to have been let in lightly, with Hugo Palmer adamant that this extra distance will suit her even better.

The only Flat racing in the UK on Saturday is at Wolverhampton in the evening when Godolphin’s SOUND AND SILENCE, runner-up in one of the Breeders Cup supporting races at Del Mar, should outclass the opposition in the 1200m Fast Track Qualifier.

Over jumps DOUVAN can erase the memory of his flop at last season’s Cheltenham Festival by resuming normal service in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, while at better odds CRESSWELL BREEZE, who stays longer than a bad smell, has all the right credentials for the London National (5800m) on the same card.

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