Several hopefuls for the HK$20 million Audemars Piguet QEII Cup (HK-I) were out at Sha Tin the morning of April 25, including a couple of top contenders in Red Cadeaux and Criterion, familiar rivals.
The 2,000-meter (about 1 1/4-mile) race is set to run April 26.
British-based Ed Dunlop was at the track for the first time this week and was pleased with the condition of his global iron horse Red Cadeaux.
"He's in great order... He came here a fit horse and it was really a case of doing as little as possible with him this week," Dunlop said.
Red Cadeaux will be lining up for his 51st career run in the APQEII Cup and no other entrant has had as much racing nor competed in as many countries (eight). "His longevity is rare as is his ability to cope with the travel," Dunlop added. "He's in the twilight of his career now and it's one race at a time, but he hasn't given us the sign yet that he's had enough.
Red Cadeaux was a closing second to Criterion in the Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Aus-I) April 11 at Royal Randwick.
"He showed in Australia that, even as a 9-year-old, he could be competitive at the trip (2,000 meters) against the best middle-distance horses there plus a few from Japan. He's a marvel," Dunlop said.
Criterion stretched his legs on the all-weather track and was obviously relaxed, pleasing trainer David Hayes.
"He's settled in like he's been here all his life," Hayes said. "He's eaten up all week and thrived. His attitude is the thing that's really pleased me. He's been so relaxed."
French trainer Pascal Bary was on hand to oversee the Niarchos family's French group winner Smoking Sun's final workout and said all was well with the Kentucky-bred son of Smart Strike despite his recalcitrance on the training track through the week.
Smoking Sun, who was runner-up in last year's Singapore Airlines International Cup (Sin-I), cantered strongly on the all-weather track Saturday and was more fluent in his work than earlier in the week when he was repeatedly in stop-start mode in the mornings.
"He's fine," Bary said. "He's always been a bit difficult in the mornings. He's been like that for two years now. He was worse in Singapore last year and still ran very well.
"We never do too much with him in the mornings. He's fit and he's eaten up all week which is very positive. The barrier draw (10) is fine as he is not quick from the start in any case. We are hopeful of a good performance," Bary said of the 6-year-old who will be the first Hong Kong runner for the Niarchos family, who had previously sent 2002 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) winner Domedriver, but he was scratched due to illness.
Japan's group III winner Staphanos had an easy breeze on the turf track and looked in good shape as he ran home the final quarter in :25.30. He worked under the supervision of the trainer Hideaki Fujiwara, who flew into Hong Kong last night.
Fujiwara was happy with the horse and said, "He looks good in form, good shape and conformation and brightness of eye. There was only one concern that he had travelled here on his own, which meant he was unable to relax at first and his appetite decreased. However he has been getting used to it (Sha Tin) and has been getting fitter and doing better after the first couple of days.
"I brought two horses here in the past: Eishin Flash and Archimedes. They were both powerful types of horses, but Staphanos is a typical type of Deep Impact colt. He is a very light horse and has a strong late kick.
"The turf track here appeared to be a little softer than when I came here last December. It is like a tough and heavier track for him. The assistant trainer galloped him to grab the feel of the surface on Wednesday, but today, I wanted the horse to get more used to it. Jockey (Yuichi Fukunaga) will arrive tonight, and we will finalize the tactics. We don't want to use him up early and to take the edge off his finish," Fujiwara said.
"He is still a 4-year-old and has lots of scope."
Hong Kong Horse of the Year Designs On Rome is in fine fettle for trainer John Moore following his fourth-place finish in the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) last month.
"From his gallop last week to his work on Thursday, the improvement's been really something," Moore said. "We took a close look at him, both on the track and back at the stable, and he's put on good body weight. He could have more sheen in his coat but that's all part and parcel of what happens when you travel horses. All in all, we think we're in there with a great chance."
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