Classic heroes Ping Hai Star (NZ) (Nom du Jeu) and Nothingilikemore return as five-year-olds in Monday’s (1 October) G3 Celebration Cup Handicap (1400m) with big aims and high hopes, with trainer John Size hopeful that both can prove quickly that they belong amongst the best horses in Hong Kong.
Size prepares both BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) winner Ping Hai Star and Hong Kong Classic Mile victor Nothingilikemore and says that the early part of their five-year-old season is crucial in determining where they will fit into the landscape in the future.
“The handicap that they have got, you find out pretty quickly as five-year-olds whether they are up to it against the better horses and whether they are better than their mark,” Size said at Sha Tin on Friday.
“Normally, they improve from four to five, especially in Hong Kong. The horses that have been around in the Classic races last season, barring complications, they should have some progression left in them.”
Ping Hai Star had an unorthodox preparation for the Derby, coming off three wins over 1400m – once in Class 3 and twice in Class 2 – before his feature success. He had never stepped beyond a mile heading into the Derby, either, but his two efforts at 2000m – his Derby win and a fourth to Pakistan Star in the G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup – were good enough for Size to form the opinion that the Nom Du Jeu gelding has a future as a middle-distance galloper.
However, Size also believes that Ping Hai Star is an untapped commodity and is reluctant to rule out anything for him in the future.
“At the moment, his best distance is the 2000m – that’s what it says on the form guide,” he said. “Even though he was good at 1400m, that was in a different class of race. That said, he’s not the sort of horse you can pigeon-hole and say that he can’t do this or that. He can do anything and he’s even proven that in a 1400m race in a lower grade, when at the start you would have thought he had no chance of winning and he still did. There’s no limit to what he’s capable of.”
From gate two, Size expects Ping Hai Star to be in his usual back-of-the-pack position under new jockey Sam Clipperton.
“There’s always plenty of speed on in the 1400m races at Sha Tin,” he said. “I haven’t looked at this race but I’m sure they will run along as there are plenty of horses needing to get a position. He doesn’t need to get a position, he will drop out the back and run home. He does have a distance issue, so it’s about whether he can pick them up.”
Clipperton will take his first ride on Ping Hai Star, having partnered him in two gallops as well as in the bay’s only trial, a 1200m hit-out at Happy Valley.
“He’s a star horse and I’m very excited to be riding him,” Clipperton said. “While he’s sure to improve after the run, I think his class will have him running a nice race on Monday. At Happy Valley, he was five lengths from them at the line but 200m after the line he was five lengths in front. I think that is one of the horse’s character traits, he enjoys what he does, he likes to keep going. It was the same in a jump-out he had down the back straight and I was struggling to pull him up.
“He’s such an athlete of a horse, very clean-winded and he uses himself well. He’s very efficient in his action and he wastes no energy. He’s a class act.”
The Celebration Cup Handicap is set to jump at 4.40pm (local time) as the eighth of 10 races. The day’s other highlight, the G3 National Day Cup Handicap (1000m), is scheduled for 4.05pm. -HKJC