John Moore was smiling like the Cheshire Cat in the aftermath of Aethero’s stunning victory at Sha Tin on Saturday.
Not only did the boom three-year-old justify all the hype with a track-record breaking performance and lower the colours of the highly rated Voyage Warrior, the legendary trainer filled his pockets in the process.
Moore is not known as a big punter, but he couldn’t resist the odds on offer for his rising star Aethero at Sha Tin on Saturday.
No doubt Aethero and Voyage Warrior were the two stand-outs in what shaped as the race of the season so far and while opinions were divided, the price discrepancy was surprising.
Voyage Warrior jumped at $1.70 with Aethero going around at $4.35 and Moore couldn’t believe his luck, insisting to his wife Fifi that they needed to invest heavily.
“I told Fifi to open the safe,” Moore joked afterwards.
“It’s not often I have a bet with my own money. It was a crazy price. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a win this big.”
But the reality is the giant smile afterwards wasn’t about the cash (although that is always nice) – it was about Moore putting his neck on the line and being proven right.
The 69-year-old has been spruiking the ability of Aethero for a while now – “he has all the makings of a superstar” – but was left a little flat after everything went wrong first-up.
Coming out on top against a horse who also harbours Group One expectations the very next start is worth plenty – which is perhaps a good lesson for those fans of Voyage Warrior, it was only one run, things didn’t pan out and he can bounce back.
But crucially for Moore, Aethero’s devastating victory ensured he got a big ratings boost (up 13 points to 102) and secured a spot in next month’s Group Two Jockey Club Sprint and after that (hopefully) the Group One Longines Hong Kong Sprint.
It’s even more important when considering this will be Moore’s last Hong Kong International Races as he is being forced into retirement.
But now it looks like he will enter the showcase meeting with not only the best horse in Hong Kong in Beauty Generation, but also the most promising young sprinter in town.
No wonder Moore was beaming.
When the HK$3.7 billion Conghua racecourse was officially opened last year, one of the big selling points was the 1,000m uphill gallop to provide trainers with another tool to get the best out of their horses.
It is an 1,100m chute above the back straight – the first of its kind available to Hong Kong-based horses – and was meant to mimic the iconic uphill gallops in jurisdictions like Japan and Britain. The problem is it hasn’t really caught on yet.
Some handlers with stables at Conghua are reluctant to use it – the thought being the 100m pull-up area is not long enough – but others are beginning to experiment with it more and more.
Ricky Yiu Poon-fai is one who has been testing it out and it paid dividends at Sha Tin on Saturday when Allied Agility prevailed in the second race.
After winning his first start down the Sha Tin straight, the gelding struggled in his following three runs, with Yiu making the decision to send him to Conghua.
The trainer galloped Allied Agility twice uphill during his three-week stint in the mainland – they were his two most serious pieces of work – before returning to Hong Kong for Saturday’s contest.
“It’s only slow work but it’s something different for them – sometimes they need a change. It makes them use their hindquarters a bit more,” Yiu said. “Allied Agility, since he’s been to Conghua he’s a more relaxed horse than before.”
Given the type of horses who come to Hong Kong and the fact trainers are still working out the best way to use the Conghua facilities, it is unlikely we will see a legion of world-class stayers coming through like those who march up and down similar hills in Japan and Britain.
But the uphill gallop certainly looks to have helped a Class Four sprinter rediscover his best form and it is a small win that could encourage more to take advantage of the underutilised track.