Elusive State emerged as a smart dirt track talent last season and Tony Millard’s charge is one of the bill-toppers for a competitive card at Sha Tin on Sunday, 27 October.
All nine races will be contested on the all-weather (dirt) surface Elusive State so relishes and Millard reports the gelding to be in good heart for his second start this term in the feature, the Class 2 Kwangtung Handicap Cup (1650m).
The six-year-old stepped out with a fine second to Big Time Baby over an insufficient 1200m on 8 September. Elusive State has clocked the sixth fastest time in the past decade over Sunday’s track and trip.
“I think 1600 metres-plus would be his proper distance,” Millard said. “It was a good run last time, it’s just that it’s been quite a long time between races but he’s had two barrier trials and the trials were nice – they were just easy trials to prep him properly.”
Joao Moreira was in the plate first up, remained on board for both trials and is booked again for the weekend test. The bay’s most recent trial 10 days ago saw the son of All American run on strongly from mid-pack to lead home 11 others at his leisure.
With higher quality dirt races sparse in Hong Kong, there was some speculation around the track last season that Elusive State might compete at the Dubai World Cup Carnival or perhaps contest September’s Korea Cup. So far, Millard has kept the galloper on home soil and the South African was coy about future targets.
“His opportunities are very limited but we’ll see how he runs on the weekend – we certainly have a very nice plan for him,” he said.
“If anything, last season we didn’t over-race him, we tried to be pretty precise with him and pinpointed his races, so he had a very good season and then we gave him a good break. He needed it because the season before he ran 18 times.”
The field also includes Glorious Artist (129lb), the track record holder at 1800m, who returns off a solid fourth in the KOR G1 Korea Cup (1800m). Champion jockey Zac Purton will be in the plate.
The five-year-old joins his Frankie Lor-trained stablemates Morethanlucky (130lb) and Turin Redstar (130lb).
Elusive State will shoulder top-weight of 131lb, a full 10lb more than last start winner Buddies (121lb). The latter is a progressive four-year-old with four wins from nine outings all told and three wins from four on the dirt.
Grant van Niekerk takes the reins from Purton for a first race ride on the John Moore-trained galloper. The South African was in the plate for a recent barrier trial and galloped the Australian-bred on Thursday (24 October) morning.
“His trial was ok, he seems a horse that doesn’t really turn it on immediately when you ask, it takes a bit of time to unwind but he’s doing good. He’ll find the step up in class a little more competitive but he is a nice horse and I’m hoping he’ll still be competitive,” Van Niekerk said.
The So You Think gelding had an awkward break from the gate when wining in Class 3 last time.
“He actually came out really quick (in the barrier trial) so maybe he just caught a bit of a stumble last time because he comes out so quick. I came out about two lengths clear of the field in the trial, so he’s a horse that’s quick out and I’ll probably be in front and let him use his action. The less kick-up you get the better.”
Van Niekerk has partnered Elusive State in trackwork previously and believes that opponent will make it a good test for his up-and-comer.
“Elusive state is a very nice horse on the dirt, it’s a step up for Buddies and he’ll find it much more competitive so I’m just hoping he gets a good run,” the rider added.
The John Size-trained pair of Raging Blitzkrieg (127lb) and Enrichment (121lb) will also line up, along with the Tony Cruz-trained Circuit Glory (125lb) and the Francis Lui-trained Noble Steed (118lb).
Sunday’s action starts at 12.15pm (AEDT 15:15pm) with the Class 5 Dongguan Handicap (1200m).
– News from Hong Kong Jockey Club