If the fanfare is true, Hong Kong’s two standout young sprinters will rock the speed division in Saturday’s (12 October) Class 2 Wo Tik Handicap (1000m) at Sha Tin.
John Moore is “looking forward to it”, Ricky Yiu is adamant “it’ll be a good race to watch” and you’d be hard pushed to find anyone arguing with either.
Moore saddles Aethero (Sebring), a big three-year-old chestnut cast in the Able Friend mould. Yiu sends out New Zealand Bloodstock graduate Voyage Warrior (Declaration of War), a four-year-old known as “Rocket” around the stable which has been home in the past to the great sprinter Sacred Kingdom and fellow speed demon Amber Sky.
Both horses head in with three wins and one defeat on their resumés. Both are being aimed at Asia’s biggest sprint prize, the Gr.1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) on 8 December. Both need ratings points to get there.
Yiu is not fazed by the prospect of pitching his emerging speedster against one of Hong Kong’s most highly-touted prospects. His Declaration Of War gelding is the only horse in the past decade to have dipped below 55 seconds down the Sha Tin straight. Voyage Warrior clocked a searing 54.89s, a Class 3 record, back in April – Sacred Kingdom’s track record is 54.70s.
“I’d say he’ll go under 55 seconds on Saturday, I’m pretty sure,” Yiu said this morning. “It all depends on how the day goes and how the track is riding but if it’s a fast track he’ll be under 55 seconds.”
Zac Purton climbed on Voyage Warrior for the gelding’s final start last term, having partnered the re-opposing Thanks Forever to inflict the gelding’s only defeat at the start prior.
“It’s a strong race, I hope Ricky’s right,” he said. “Voyage Warrior hasn’t done anything wrong. I know he’s got the one defeat but he’s run good time, he’s looked good in winning his races.
“Although he was able to win at his last start, he was at the end of his prep, a little bit tired and he was still able to put up a good performance. He’s a fresh horse this season, he’s had the benefit of a short break and let’s hope he’s continued to improve.”
Yiu’s confidence is not dented by the concession of 3lb to Aethero. He is looking instead at the fact that his horse has one more year of maturity on his frame.
“John Moore’s horse is only three, they’re on a similar rating and I see my horse being a year older as an advantage. He’ll run a tremendously good race – that’s how I see it,” he said.
“We have the tongue tie on to help him relax. He has tons of speed but he’s done it all so easily, he’s automatic. He’ll be up there where he’s happy, maybe roll to the outside rail. Zac is a champion jockey, he’s won on him before so he’ll know what to do.”
Moore doesn’t agree with Yiu’s take on the age difference and he anticipates Aethero finding a handy spot just off Voyage Warrior.
“When Griffins go into open company in Classes two and three, they are not well off and have to prove themselves, but Aethero was a very forward two-year-old and now he’s a three-year-old, the age factor doesn’t worry me – he’s mature and advanced,” he said.
“We’ve drawn five and Voyage Warrior is seven, so he’ll probably kick off behind Voyage Warrior because he’s a little bit fidgety in the gate and might miss it a fraction. But he’ll get into his straps very quickly, within two or three strides he starts to motor, so I’d think he’d be just outside Voyage Warrior, cruising outside him.”
Whatever the outcome this weekend, the pair could lock horns again in the G2 Jockey Club Sprint (1200m) five weeks from now.
“We’ll most likely go there and see if he copes with that and then we’ll see whether he can participate in the Hong Kong Sprint in December,” Yiu said.
Voyage Warrior was sold as a yearling at the 2017 New Zealand Bloodstock yearling sale when consigned by Henley Park. He returned to the ring later that year as a Ready To Run 2YO though the draft of JK Farm and purchased by Yiu for $280,000.