Wednesday cards on Kempton’s Polytrack and Sha Tin’s “all-weather” (which is really dirt) have more than typical resonance this week, with each venue staging a prep for bigger targets.
In Hong Kong, dirt specialist Gun Pit will tune up for the December 6 Champions Cup (G1) (formerly the Japan Cup Dirt) in the 6TH race at Sha Tin. A perfect six-for-six over the dirt, all at this 1650-meter trip, the Caspar Fownes trainee has set back-to-back track records – each while toting 133 pounds in Class 2 handicaps. He clocked 1:37.39 on March 25, and bettered that time to 1:37.36 in his only subsequent appearance on July 1.
“I want to build him into a Group 1 horse on this surface, to be able to travel him overseas,” Fownes said after that race.
“Hopefully we’re able to get his rating high enough to be able to travel him to Japan or Dubai or the United States because he deserves a crack at them.”
Gun Pit has been steadily brought back to fitness with a series of four barrier trials, and the late runner has moved forward each time.
“He went well,” jockey Zac Purton said in the wake of his close second in his final hit-out November 10. “He knows his job pretty well on the surface. He just ambled up to them and he was waiting for me to give him the signal. He did what he needed to do, he had a nice little blow and he feels really good. I’m looking forward to seeing him back at the races. He’ll run on the Wednesday night and then, all being well, he goes to Japan after that.”
Up to Class 1 level for his reappearance, Gun Pit carries 132 pounds, one less than co-highweights Harbour Master and Pleasure Gains, who are both dropping in class and switching surfaces. The Australian-bred son of Dubawi will break from post 3.
While Gun Pit preps in Hong Kong for Japan, globetrotting veteran Gordon Lord Byron preps in England for Hong Kong. Later Wednesday at Kempton, the seven-year-old lines up in the Hyde S., his springboard to Sha Tin’s December 13 international raceday.
Gordon Lord Byron has made several trips to Hong Kong over the past three years, most notably finishing fourth in his trio of appearances at the International Races. He competed in the Hong Kong Mile (G1) in 2012-13, and the Hong Kong Sprint (G1) in 2014, and remains eligible for both.
Although Gordon Lord Byron has ample back class as a Group 1 winner in three countries – France’s Prix de la Foret (G1) in 2012, England’s Sprint Cup (G1) at Haydock in 2013 and Australia’s George Ryder (G1) in 2014 – he hasn’t performed up to his usual standard this season. His only win came in a listed event at the Curragh in June, but his best piece of form was a close third to the superb Muhaarar and Esoterique in the August 9 Prix Maurice de Gheest (G1) at Deauville. Trainer Tom Hogan believes his stable star is in fine fettle at present.
But the one-mile Hyde S., a qualifying event for the lucrative Mile at Lingfield’s All-Weather Championships on Good Friday, is no easy spot.
Richard Pankhurst, a onetime Guineas prospect for John Gosden, looms a big danger. Sidelined since his maiden-breaking win in the 2014 Chesham at Royal Ascot, the Godolphin sophomore had a couple of comebacks postponed due to soft ground. He finally resurfaced at Haydock September 3 and just nabbed the useful older horse Dark Emerald. Plans called for Richard Pankhurst to contest the September 25 Joel (G2) at Newmarket, but he ended up missing that race after coming down with hives. Gosden had to plot a new course, and here we are.
Other prominent entries include Sovereign Debt, a four-time stakes winner in 2015 who totes the top weight of 132 pounds; Celestial Path, fifth to Gleneagles in the 2000 Guineas (G1) two back; last-out Ben Marshall S. hero Big Baz; and Godolphin’s other hope, promising three-year-old filly Very Special, a rallying second in the October 29 Fleur de Lys off a six-month layoff. The Saeed bin Suroor pupil gets in with the lightest impost of 121 pounds.
Gun Pit photo courtesy of Hong Kong Jockey Club.