Plans for newly crowned Japanese Horse of the Year Maurice are beginning to firm up, as trainer Noriyuki Hori sounded very positive about a tilt at the Dubai Turf (G1) on World Cup night.

A perfect six-for-six since joining Hori ahead of his 2015 campaign, Maurice turned the significant Yasuda Kinen (G1)/Mile Championship (G1) double before toppling Able Friend in the December 13 Hong Kong Mile (G1). The 5-year-old son of Screen Hero may head straight to Dubai off the 3-month holiday.

“He is at the Northern Farm in Shigaraki and recovering nicely from his Hong Kong Mile win,” Hori told Racing Post.

“His main asset is that he tries so hard in every race but it is also a weak point as it takes him time to recover. I can’t say when he will return to my yard and which race is his first one, though it will become clearer next month.

“The Dubai Turf is definitely in our plans though.”

The best part of this quasi-confirmation? Maurice is on a collision course with defending Dubai Turf champion Solow, who’s compiled a gaudy nine-race winning streak himself for Freddie Head.

Last year, Solow was involved in a couple of hotly anticipated clashes that turned out anticlimactic – Able Friend ran far below his best in the Queen Anne (G1), while Gleneagles struggled with the ground in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1). If Maurice turns up in peak form at Meydan, we’ll at last get a proper showdown for Solow.

Head told Racing UK Thursday that Solow will resume in a March 3 race over Chantilly’s Polytrack, the same prep that propelled him to the 2015 Dubai Turf.

Decipher-ing Dubai trips: Sheikh Mohammed’s Japanese homebred Decipher boosted his profile with a victory in the January 24 American Jockey Club Cup (G2). The 7-year-old son of Deep Impact is engaged in the Dubai Turf, but according to Graham Pavey (@LongBallToNoOne), he’s also under consideration for Hong Kong. Although the Dubai Turf would be a brutally tough spot for him, you’d have to wonder if Sheikh Mohammed wouldn’t like to have a Darley Japan product in the field on World Cup night.

Also this week, Japanese dirt star Hokko Tarumae racked up a record 10th Grade 1 score when completing a three-peat in Wednesday’s Kawasaki Kinen. (That treble, and four other top-level decisions, came in local Grade 1s rather than internationally recognized Grade 1s.) Now he’ll set his sights on a third straight try in the Dubai World Cup (G1). Hokko Tarumae can be forgiven his flop on Meydan’s old Tapeta in 2014 (all the more because he was so sick immediately afterward), but he was only fifth on the new dirt in 2015. It’s tough to see how he’ll do appreciably better this time, especially when the pacey type is again confronted by high-class American speed in California Chrome.

A more interesting World Cup prospect is Japan Dirt Derby hero Nonkono Yume, who won four straight until a rallying second in the December 6 Champions Cup (formerly Japan Cup Dirt) (G1). Although deep closers can have difficulty at Meydan, Prince Bishop had no problem charging from the rear in last year’s World Cup. Pavey passes on the report that Nonkono Yume will use the February S. (G1) as his warm-up.

Several other Japanese performers are in the mix for Dubai, notably Maurice’s stablemate, last year’s champion 3-year-old colt Duramente, who’ll make his first start back from surgery in the February 28 Nakayama Kinen (G2) ahead of a possible Sheema Classic (G1) bid.

Peniaphobia preferring to stay home? As the near-misser in the 2015 Al Quoz Sprint (G1), who crowned his season in the Hong Kong Sprint (G1), Peniaphobia would be a prime threat on a follow-up visit to Dubai. But trainer Tony Cruz is more inclined to keep him home in Hong Kong, with a view toward the re-positioned Chairman’s Sprint Prize (G1). The about six-furlong dash has been shifted to May 1, a reshuffling caused by Singapore’s surprising decision to terminate the KrisFlyer International Sprint (G1) that had been a mid-May fixture in the Global Sprint Challenge.

“We’ll have to look at whether or not we go to Dubai — there’s a doubt about going there at this stage because the Jockey Club has the Chairman’s Sprint Prize here on Champions Mile Day. The prize money is really good, so I think we’ll probably focus on that this time around instead of taking him to Dubai,” Cruz told Hong Kong Jockey Club publicity.

Peniaphobia defends his title in a terrific Centenary Sprint Cup (G1) on Sunday, the first leg of Hong Kong’s Speed Series that now culminates in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize.

Sorrows of Young Werther: Admittedly, that’s an awful exaggeration, but when else might I get to use the allusion? Werther was a barnstorming, arguably unlucky, second after being pocketed in the January 24 Hong Kong Classic Mile. To be fair, Sun Jewellery was a worthy winner, as a well-bred son of Snitzel with a fine resume – and Ryan Moore in the saddle to overcome post 14. In a rematch over the metric mile, Sun Jewellery might always prove a bit sharper of the two.

But Werther’s going to thrive over the added ground of the remaining two legs of Hong Kong’s 4-Year-Old Series, the 1800-meter Classic Cup and especially the 2000-meter Hong Kong Derby. By the Montjeu stallion Tavistock and out of a mare by Zabeel, Werther had solid form at 2200 meters and upwards in Australia, including a second to the superb filly Delicacy in the S.A. Derby (G1).

 

English & Exosphere serve notice: Last year’s Golden Slipper (G1) runner-up English bolted up in a Friday barrier trial at Randwick. In a heat brimming with big-race performers, the Gai Waterhouse pupil produced a sparkling turn of foot to draw off by about three lengths. Of course, the margin can’t be taken literally, since her rivals (including easy sixth Winx) are being brought along according to their trainers’ designs, and not subjected to pressure or asked serious questions.

The encouraging thing for English fans is that she did it all in hand herself. Sidelined since her disappointing sixth in the April 6 Sires Produce (G1) at Randwick, the Encosta de Lago filly could have a productive Australian autumn.

On Tuesday, Exosphere turned in an eyecatching trial when a strong-traveling second at Warwick Farm. Successful in the Golden Rose (G1) during a three-race winning spree in the second half of 2015, the Godolphin colt was last seen fourth in the October 31 Coolmore Stud (G1). The John O’Shea trainee is gearing up for the February 20 Lightning (G1).

Finishing a lackluster fourth in the same trial was Pride of Dubai. Team Snowden has since decided to skip Saturday’s Expressway (G2) versus elders and await the February 6 Eskimo Prince (G3) in his own division. Let’s hope we see the Blue Diamond (G1) and Sires Produce hero in top form.

Mondialiste and Arabian Queen set for Lockinge: The May 14 Lockinge (G1) at Newbury has been circled as the return spot for Mondialiste, the TDN reports. Trainer David O’Meara believes that the much-improved son of Galileo, who captured last fall’s Woodbine Mile (G1) and finished a hard-charging second to Tepin in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), is capable of garnering a European Group 1. A less expected rival in the mile contest is Arabian Queen. Best known for stunning Golden Horn in the Juddmonte International (G1), Arabian Queen stays in training with David Elsworth in hopes of padding her resume.

Changes of address: As you may have already seen in U.S. sources, Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Lovely Maria has been exported to Japan. But a couple of high-profile types are coming our way. Aidan O’Brien’s onetime Derby (G1) fancy John F Kennedy and Ribbons, the 2014 Prix Jean Romanet (G1) winner, are both in line for U.S. campaigns after being sold, Racing Post reports.

John F Kennedy has been purchased by Argentinean interests as a stallion prospect, but will first transfer to Paulo Lobo for a California venture. By Galileo and out of European champion Rumplestiltskin, he is a full brother to Group 1 star Tapestry. “JFK” failed to build on his promising 2-year-old season, and it’s a measure of how far he’s fallen that a few bookmakers were actually offering odds on him for the Triumph Hurdle (which smacks of a sarcastic joke taken to heart).

The buyer of Ribbons was not revealed, but at least the former James Fanshawe trainee had some good form in 2015. Aside from landing the Blandford (G2), she traded decisions with Secret Gesture when placing in both the Pretty Polly (G1) and the Middleton (G2). 

Classy French-bred Spiritjim has left his homeland for Australia, where he will join top trainer Chris Waller. With his back class as the disqualified winner of the 2014 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1) and runner-up to Postponed in the September 13 Prix Foy (G2), as well as his proficiency on rain-softened ground, he wouldn’t mind a wet Championships. But Waller told Racing and Sports that whatever he’s ready for at the tail-end of the Autumn Carnival, he’s looking further down the Australian calendar.

Finally, Pat Cummings reported via Twitter that 9-year-old multimillionaire Ron the Greek has been retired in Saudi Arabia. The news came as little surprise after his last subpar performance, and his withdrawal from last Saturday’s engagement.

On tap: Remember that Aerovelocity and Luger return in Hong Kong Sunday, the former taking on Peniaphobia in the Centenary Sprint Cup and the latter contesting the Stewards’ Cup (G1). On Saturday, South Africa’s Kenilworth hosts the prestigious J&B Met (G1) and the Cape Flying Championship (G1).

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Dispatch Box Archives

1/22/16 — Hong Kong’s cardiac patients Aerovelocity & Luger, plus updates on Master Kochanwong, Winx, Xtravagant

1/15/16 — Inaugural post featuring Blue Creek, Lani, Vancouver, Able Friend