Aethero and Voyage Warrior clash in battle of the rising speed stars

David Morgan

11/10/2019 15:35

Voyage Warrior is a bullet down the Sha Tin straight.
Voyage Warrior is a bullet down the Sha Tin straight.

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 (122lb), a big three-year-old chestnut cast in the Able Friend mould. Yiu sends out Voyage Warrior (125lb), 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 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) on 8 December. Both need ratings points to get there.

Aethero is held in high regard.
Aethero is held in high regard.

Aethero fluffed his lines first-up this season, failing to settle over 1200m in the hurly-burly of his first Class 2 race. The 89-rated galloper’s quality carried him to third that day.

“Everything is right with him,” Moore said this morning (Friday, 11 October).  “His work rider Romain (Clavreul) went around on him earlier this morning and said he’s raring to go, and his work leading into that has been good.

“This race wasn’t in the plans originally but when we found he’s still a work in process, as far as racing in among horses, this race was one to get a few more ratings points on the board.”

Fast predictions

Voyage Warrior blazes home inside 55 seconds last April.

Yiu, meanwhile, 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.”

Moore is on the same page. Aethero might be dropping down to 1000m for the first time since debut but his trainer believes he has what it takes to clock a fast time at the minimum trip.

“We’re hoping for a tailwind then they can get down into 54 seconds. That’s exciting!” he said.

Moreira on Aethero

Joao Moreira will take the reins on Aethero this time.
Joao Moreira will take the reins on Aethero this time.

Zac Purton has ridden Aethero in all his starts to date but was long since booked for Voyage Warrior’s return. Joao Moreira takes over on Moore’s rising star.

“I have faith in Aethero,” Moreira said. “I was on him yesterday just for a canter round to try and understand the horse a bit; he seems very straightforward, he’s a big, strong horse.

“There’s a bullet there called Voyage Warrior so it’s going to be about who is the best up-and-coming sprinter. It’s probably going to be his biggest test so far, he’s done well at this distance before, so hopefully he can get a smooth run and we can find out who is the best.”

Purton climbed on Voyage Warrior for the gelding’s final start last term, having partnered the re-opposing Thanks Forever (125lb) to inflict the Australian-bred’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.”

Age a factor?

Ricky Yiu knows a good sprinter when he sees one.
Ricky Yiu knows a good sprinter when he sees one.

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.”

Voyage Warrior steps into his first-up run off a recent 1050m barrier trial.

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.”

Racing to December

The young guns will have to face some of the world’s best sprinters if they make it to the Hong Kong Sprint.
The young guns will have to face some of the world’s best sprinters if they make it to the Hong Kong Sprint.

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.

And Moore is not ruling out any route as he aims Aethero towards the big December feature.

“This race is not make or break. There are other lead-up races to December, we’ll find other paths if we need to,” he said,

But Saturday’s race must be navigated first and the 14-strong field is not short on quality. The likes of Saul’s Special (133lb), Dragon General (128lb), Refined Treasure (125lb), Mulitmillion (119lb) and of course Thanks Forever are all multiple winners at the minimum distance.

Thanks Forever defeats Voyage Warrior last season.

Thanks Forever is on a recovery mission though, with Chad Schofield taking over from Purton. After defeating Voyage Warrior last term, when in receipt of 13lb, the Duporth four-year-old rounded out his campaign with two sub-par runs at 1200m and 1400m.

“He’s a different horse up the straight,” Purton commented. “You put him around the corner and it’s like he doesn't know what he’s doing, his legs go everywhere. It was no fluke his victory over Voyage Warrior and he could easily go and do it again, I suppose.

“They’re three nice horses and it’s good for racing that they all get to meet. Hopefully I’m on the right one but we won’t know that until they hit the line.”

The 10-race card starts at 1pm with the Class 5 Chung On Handicap (1600m).