As the convincing winner of The Everest last out, Classique Legend can claim superior Australian sprint form, and an international rating of 125 to match. On paper that puts him comfortably clear of his rivals in Sunday’s $2.8 million Hong Kong Sprint (G1), but he hasn’t had the textbook preparation for his Sha Tin debut for new trainer Caspar Fownes.
Hong Kong Sprint: Race 5 at Sha Tin, post time 1:40 a.m. (ET)
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Owner Boniface Ho has long intended for Classique Legend to set up shop with Fownes in Hong Kong. But when his scheduled shipment was postponed in March, Ho decided to keep him in Australia through The Everest.
Highly regarded from the beginning by octogenarian trainer Les Bridge, Classique Legend won three of his first four starts, capped by the 2019 Arrowfield Sprint during The Championships. The gray gelding placed in his lead-ups to last year’s Everest, but wound up sixth in the lucrative main event.
The maturing Classique Legend has been a different proposition of late around Randwick. After taking the June S. under 132 pounds, the 5-year-old gelding kicked off his current preparation with a victory in The Shorts (G2). Bridge blamed a tactical miscue for his ensuing second in the Oct. 3 Premiere (G2).
Regular rider Kerrin McEvoy was determined to sit back and make one run in The Everest on Oct. 17. Classique Legend responded with an authoritative 2 1/2-length decision over multiple Group 1 hero Bivouac, with Australian Horse of the Year Nature Strip back in seventh.
Now on top of achieving his main aim of the year, Classique Legend was whisked off into almost three weeks’ quarantine at the Werribee International Horse Centre. He arrived in Hong Kong Nov. 9, and Fownes is tasked with getting him ready in short order for the Hong Kong Sprint.
Classique Legend tuned up with a solid third in a Dec. 1 barrier trial, and Fownes discussed his situation:
“Obviously he’s a bit rusty and he hasn’t had an ideal prep as I have been saying – I’m just doing the best I possibly can considering the time frame I have.
“Everything has been a rush – it hasn’t been ideal, I know everyone is watching from around the world and they think it’s easy – it doesn’t work like that.
“The horse has to come in here, have a vaccination, he’s also been sedated for freeze-branding and he was only cantering at Werribee. I took no chances with him because I’m not there on the ground.
“I’m still learning about the horse. The preparation this horse has had, he’s come to me at the end of his prep, they built him up for the big grand swansong and they got the job done and I’ve just got to come in and try and pinch one more race before I freshen him up.
“But all excuses aside, if he is the best and even if I present him at 85-90% he should be good enough but like anything, you just have to hope they come here and adapt as soon as possible.”
Just to give Fownes something else to think about, Classique Legend drew the rail, a position whence no horse has ever won the Hong Kong Sprint. But three winners have emerged from post 2, most recently Aerovelocity (2014), and Beat the Clock won from post 3 last year.
“I was really hoping for gate 5, to tell you the truth, all the way before the draw started,” Fownes said.
“He’s a horse that needs a bit of room. Anyway, it is what it is. Most people won’t complain about draw 1. He’ll be ridden to get his chance and we’ll see it happens.
“He won’t be hassled out of the gates early, he’ll probably be back in midfield. Just going to hope that the legendary Hong Kong pace is on, like it always is, and then it’s up to Vincent (Ho) to ride his race.”
Ironically, Classique Legend’s half-brother Aethero was third as the heavy favorite in this very race last December. Then a rising star, he too has since ended up with Fownes (for other connections). It remains to be seen if there will be any sibling rivalry on the racetrack, but Classique Legend’s ambitions are ultimately global – Dubai and Royal Ascot have already been mentioned.
The clear second on international ratings at 120 is the John Size-trained Hot King Prawn, who hopes his third time in the Sprint is the proverbial charm. His relentless rise through the ranks made him the favorite in the 2018 edition, but he disappointed in ninth. Missing the rest of that season after undergoing colic surgery, Hot King Prawn was a superb second in the 2019 Sprint in just his second start back, and he continues to finish thereabouts in the marquee events in the division. He finally scored another Group win when regaining his title in the Nov. 22 Jockey Club Sprint (G2), beating most of the domestic contingent re-opposing here. Hot King Prawn is well drawn in post 5 and keeps Joao Moreira aboard.
Also looking to break through after going close at the top level is Japanese shipper Danon Smash. A son of two-time Sprint conqueror Lord Kanaloa, he has the same trainer in Takayuki Yasuda, if not the same swagger. Danon Smash, only eighth when trying to emulate his sire here last year, has placed in the past two runnings of the Sprinters (G1) at Nakayama. A close third to Tower of London in the 2019 Sprinters, he was runner-up to champion filly Gran Alegria in the Oct. 4 renewal.
Although compatriot Tower of London sports the Group 1 laurel on his resume, the Godolphin homebred has not performed up to his usual standard in 2020. Tower of London has raced just three times this season, and Danon Smash has finished ahead of him in each start, most notably when winning the Mar. 7 Ocean (G3) and May 16 Keio Hai Spring Cup (G2). Tower of London was sidelined after his eighth as the defending champion in the latter and enters off a seven-month holiday. Godolphin jockey William Buick looks for a good effort despite post 12 on Sunday. Danon Smash is marooned in the far outside post 14 with Ryan Moore.
Jockey Club Sprint runner-up Computer Patch has been rampantly progressive for all-time HKIR leading trainer Tony Cruz. The half-brother to Australian Group 1 winner Manuel rolled in the Oct. 1 National Day Cup H. (G3) and nearly wired the Oct. 18 Premier Bowl H. (G2). While Computer Patch capitalized on a light weight in those efforts, he backed it up at level weights last time, where he stuck on well despite being up on the pace. Alexis Badel picks up the mount from the benched Christophe Soumillon.
Rattan was a rattling third in both the Premier Bowl and Jockey Club Sprint, despite problematic starts, and telegraphs he’s likely to do better than his 10th in this race a year ago. His career-best victory came in the 2019 Sprint Cup (G2), where he upset Beat the Clock and two-time Sprint champ Mr Stunning.
“We’re delighted with his physical condition,” trainer Richard Gibson said. “He’s peaking really nicely for this time of the year.”
A sentimental reason to root for Rattan is jockey Chad Schofield, son of Glyn Schofield, who engineered the 27-1 upset of the 2005 Sprint aboard Natural Blitz. Chad has a chance to complete the first father/son jockey double in this race.
The improving Voyage Warrior, fourth among traffic in the Jockey Club Sprint, had upset the Apr. 5 Sprint Cup (G2) in his Group debut. He is one of two for reigning champion trainer Ricky Yiu, along with multiple Group 3 scorer Jolly Banner who was second to Computer Patch in the National Day Cup. Frankie Lor is also double-handed with Big Party and Fat Turtle, the respective fifth and sixth in the Jockey Club Sprint.
Jockey Club Sprint seventh and eighth Stronger and Amazing Star have to prove themselves at this level, and both have made it into the field after initially waiting on the reserve list. Amazing Star, honored as Hong Kong’s Most Improved Horse for the 2019-20 season, was not beaten far in his Group debut. But he has been unplaced in both tries in Class 1 handicaps.
Stronger has the stronger resume, as an Australian juvenile Group 3 winner who was third to Bivouac in the 2019 Kindergarten (G3) at Randwick. Shaping with promise after joining now-retired John Moore in Hong Kong, the 4-year-old colt is continuing his upward curve for top jockey-turned-trainer Douglas Whyte.
Jockey Club Sprint ninth Wishful Thinker was only beaten 1 1/2 lengths here last December, and he got up to surprise Computer Patch in the Premier Bowl two back. Big Time Baby faded to last in his Jockey Club Sprint comeback, but promises to take a leap forward second up. Although his Hong Kong wins have come on the all-weather (dirt), and he was pointing for the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1), he’s capable on turf too. Big Time Baby was second to Mr Stunning (a two-time winner of this race) in the Apr. 26 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (G1).
Quotations from Hong Kong Jockey Club notes by Declan Schuster and Leo Schlink