Southern Legend limbers up for hard Almond test

Southern Legend exercises on Meydan turf this morning.

By David Morgan (HKJC) in Dubai

It was Almond Eye’s morning at Meydan Racecourse (Wednesday, 27 March): Japan’s star filly breezed powerfully, fluidly, impressively down the turf straight under Christophe Lemaire, to a rattle of camera shutters. Just two minutes after the flurry, Hong Kong’s Southern Legend loped the same stretch in casual anonymity.

Caspar Fownes was happy. Almond Eye might be a queen of world racing right now but the Sha Tin trainer is hoping his talented gelding might be able to knock off her crown in Saturday’s (30 March) G1 Dubai Turf (1800m). It’s a tough ask.

“Everything’s good with Southern Legend, he went quietly on the grass today and I couldn’t be happier with him, he’s fit and well,” Fownes said. “I’ve seen Almond Eye both days, she looks in great order. I didn’t see her gallop today though, I just saw her leaving the stables on her way to the track.

“Southern Legend is tough, he’s fit and he tries hard,” he continued. “Almond Eye is a champion and champions are very hard to beat but I’m happy to be in this race and I feel confident that he will perform with lots of merit and run his usual honest race.”

Southern Legend will break from the inside berth, Gate 1, on Saturday.

“The draw really doesn’t matter to Southern Legend, he’s very versatile,” Fownes said.

Almond Eye will jump from seven: The all-conquering winner of Japan’s Fillies’ Triple Crown last year is seen rightly as a clear favourite.

Southern Legend is still chasing a full-blown Group 1 win – his Kranji Mile beat-up last May was a local Singapore G1 – but his form is enviable. A somewhat luckless second to Hong Kong’s top stayer Exultant over 2000m last start and three placed efforts in G1 mile features behind the king of Sha Tin, Beauty Generation.

One beauty of global sports events like the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races, FWD Champions Day and the Dubai World Cup meeting, is the drawing together of elite form-lines; measuring the best of one jurisdiction against the best of another.

Is Beauty Generation’s form-line up to the best Japan can offer? In the Master Miler’s absence, the weekend clash will not prove anything conclusively but if Southern Legend shows up at a peak, it might give further clarity.

Almond Eye, for her part, appears to be in excellent heart for the coming together of strands, which also includes elements from the best lines in Europe and Dubai.

“She’s getting better and better,” trainer Sakae Kunieda said. “In Japan she is a bit nervous but with the flight to Dubai she has been relaxed and her bodyweight is good.”

Lemaire said: “She’s a very special horse in terms of her potential and her abilities. She has a big stride, she covers a lot of ground with a lot of power.

“She went very well as usual. She was very relaxed and focused on the job. The work was good and she felt very comfortable on the track, so it was no problem. The track looks like the Japanese tracks, the cushion today was good – not too firm – so I was happy with her.”

Gibson duo take it easy

Wishful Thinker drew 13 in the Al Quoz Sprint.
Wishful Thinker drew 13 in the Al Quoz Sprint.

Richard Gibson hopped off a flight from Hong Kong and was trackside at Meydan in good time to see his stable’s Gold Mount and Wishful Thinker undertake a light canter together on the dirt track.

“They’ve come a long way so the build up to these races will be light work, you won’t be seeing any track headlines from the Gibson stable pre-race,” he said.

Wishful Thinker, with four wins from his last five starts, will line up in the G1 Al Quoz Sprint (1200m, turf) down the straight. The gelding drew post 13 at this afternoon’s barrier allocation, closest to the historically more favourable stands’ side. Chief threat Blue Point drew eight.

“The experts tell me that’s a good place to be,” Gibson said. “Wishful Thinker didn’t race that long ago and with both horses it’s just a matter of stretching them out and keeping them comfortable and happy.”

Gibson is back at Meydan with a challenger for the first time since Akeed Mofeed’s fifth in the 2014 G1 Dubai World Cup.

He is sending Gold Mount down a rare route for a Hong Kong galloper, the 3200m G2 Dubai Gold Cup – Hong Kong’s longest races are 2400m and there are only three of those each season. The six-year-old was allotted barrier 10 of 10 earlier this week.

“It’s difficult in Hong Kong because we don’t have those staying races as prep, but I was pleased with his trial 10 days ago on dirt. He’s not a big horse, he doesn’t need a lot of work but I think we’ve got enough miles in his legs,” Gibson said.

“He’s a stalker, he’s sort of a crescendo horse so the draw is not an issue and if there’s plenty of pace on it will suit.”

“We think we’ve put the horses in the right races and we think they’ll run clean races.”

Hong Kong’s Fight Hero is bound for the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (1200m, dirt) and cantered past the dirt track winning post at the same time as Almond Eye galloped down the turf straight.

Fight Hero drew Gate 10 of 10 at this afternoon’s draw.

Trainer Me Tsui said: “All of the fast American horses drew one to four so it’s better to be wider. If he’d drawn inside, he’d get stuck behind more kick-back so from the outside he can get a smoother run and wait.”

Author: iRace