It’s not always the journey, it’s the destination, and Royal Ascot, with the mouth-watering prospect of possibly racing against the exciting Solow, is the big destination that awaits Able Friend on June 16 in the Queen Anne Stakes.
The world’s current co-highest-rated horse has been handled with kid gloves by owner Dr Cornel Li and his family with not even the well-known persuasive skills of trainer John Moore able to change their minds regarding the chartered course for Able Friend.
Remember that famous lunch at Jimmy’s Kitchen where even the restaurant’s famous Chicken Madras Curry was unable to tempt Dr Li to have his multi-million dollar baby race in Dubai or “The Championships” at rain-curdled Royal Randwick? Thank goodness for side-stepping those overseas sojourns when one looks back at the events and how forgettable they were. So much for the lure of over-the-top prize money.
Though money can buy one a weak stab at love, money can’t buy one happiness- though there’ll always be a damn fine time giving it the old college try- and money can’t attract Able Friend to go and “refresh parts that other beers (and horses) cannot reach.”
Able Friend, like Frankel and Black Caviar before him, has become a global brand for racing, and how and where and when he can, and will make his presence felt is the exclusive property and Rights of the Li family. Their brand’s next public appearance is tomorrow at Shatin in the Group1$14m Champions Mile.
Only six runners take on Able Friend with three of these being John Moore runners, and one very much doubts they’re there to pester their superstar stablemate. They’re there to do their best. But their best won’t be enough, not against Able Friend.
If there is to be any competition, it will come from the John Size-trained and Zac Purton-ridden Luger, the winner of this year’s BMW Hong Kong Derby. Knowing the competitive streak and combined strengths of trainer and jockey, they won’t be any pushovers. Like Moore, John Size is a master horseman, who will have Luger at his best, and one mistake from amigo Joao Moreira, and good mate Zac Purton will pounce.
Mutual admiration societies have their time and place. A Group 1 race is not one of them, and Luger might well be Able Friend’s toughest opposition to date, especially after a less-than-spectacular last start win, a run Purton has described as seeing the giant chestnut looking “tired”. He’s quick to add however, that if Able Friend is at the top of its game for tomorrow’s race- and why shouldn’t he be?- the Fat Lady has already sung.
Watching Purton and Moreira doing battle tomorrow will be perfect timing. It will happen after The Fight Of The Century in Vegas between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. In Hong Kong, who will be Mayweather and who will be the Pacman?Considering the huge popularity of the two riders, both will be the Pacman.
There’s more to tomorrow’s race. With Purton’s acrimonious split from John Moore that involved the trainer’s then-champion galloper- Military Attack- moving stables- and Luger being a Douglas Whyte discard in the Derby- there’s added drama behind the battle for supremacy tomorrow afternoon.
Able Friend should win the Champions Mile- but Luger will be ready to gun it down. Cher is on the sidelines waiting to burst into “Bang Bang” while Carole King is ready to remind us that “You’ve Got A Friend”.
It’s fascinating stuff- and brilliant theatre that would have benefited with a call by the excellent Mark Shean, who’ll start his Big Hong Kong Adventure later this month.
For Brett Davis, below, who has done a great job keeping the seat warm for Shean, it will be yet another baptism of fire. And as he has done since the hasty departure of Darren “Let Me Goooooooh” Flindell from Hong Kong for the glamour of Sydney racing, he’ll also handle this assignment very well.
After all is said and done, tomorrow looks all set to belong to Able Friend, a world class racehorse that scares away international opposition. A horse that has won over an international audience. A horse that puts an extra spring in the step of regular rider Joao Moreira, who bursts into an even wider smile when talking about his charge.
To some it might be “only horse racing”, but Able Friend is Hong Kong’s only truly global sports superstar- and should be recognised as that. It’s an honour that’s well deserved.