He’s outlined the Dubai World Cup meeting and the US$20 million Saudi Cup as options for dirt specialist Elusive State but Tony Millard says “the talk stops here” ahead of the six-year-old’s run at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The horse returns to its pet course and distance in the Class Two Kwangtung Handicap Cup (1,650m) and Millard hopes Elusive State can provide the highlight of Sunday’s all-dirt meeting.
“He’s got to do his thing, the talk stops here,” he said.
Millard knows that boosting Elusive State’s rating, which sits at 96, is crucial if he is to attract invites to race at the top level overseas.
“For sure, it’s always frustrating because there’s not much programme for these horses in Hong Kong,” he said. “We’ll see how he goes here and I just hope he comes through it well.”
Elusive State’s story is a remarkable one – he dipped to a rating of 43 before winning two of this final three starts under Derek Cruz, and then going on to win four of six starts for Millard last season to rocket into Class Two.
The horse was super impressive first-up this term, rattling home for second over an unsuitable 1,200m trip, and Joao Moreira is again in the saddle on Sunday.
“His run the other day over 1,200m was eye-catching, he was closing off nicely and indicated that he needed more ground,” Moreira said. “I’m glad that Tony has given the ride to me and hopefully he doesn’t let us down.”
Elusive State tackles an intriguing band of challengers, with Glorious Artist stepping out for the first time since his fourth in the Korea Cup (1,800m) last month.
Zac Purton takes the ride on Glorious Artist after jumping off last-start winner Buddies, who steps into Class Two company for the first time.
John Size has consistent dirt performer Raging Blitzkrieg in the race and also takes Hong Kong Derby runner Enrichment to the all-weather surface for the first time after three midfield finishes on the turf to start the season.
Another galloper to race on the all-weather track for the first time on Sunday is Benno Yung Tin-pang’s Ka Ying Master, a four-year-old colt who strung together two wins in Class Four before struggling last time out in Class Three.
Yung hopes a change in surface and a step-up in trip for the Class Three Guangzhou Handicap (1,200m) can spark Ka Ying Master back to life.
“He’s got ability but the one variable is his wind issue, he’s a roarer,” Yung said. “Last time he trialled on the dirt he went really well so we want to see how he goes, he’s in good condition.”
One runner lining up at Sha Tin who punters may not be too familiar with is Peter Ho Leung’s Pleasant Guy, who runs for the first time since February last year in the Class Four Shenzhen Handicap (1,200m).
After two starts early last year for a fourth and a 13th, Pleasant Guy has struggled to overcome tendinitis, among other things, but Ho rates him highly enough to have persisted with him.
“I have spent so much time on this horse, looking after him and making sure I didn’t train him too hard,” Ho said. “He will win races.”
The five-year-old ran on nicely into fourth in a trial earlier this month but Ho says he’s still a work in progress.
“He trialled well but you can’t expect him to be 100 per cent because he hasn’t raced for so long. I think he’s at 70 per cent,” he said.
“I think he will run a good race because he is a good horse, he’s very genuine and he always tries his best. Hopefully after this race he can improve even more.”