Russian Emperor starts trek towards familiar Group 1 goals

Leo Schlink

12/10/2023 15:15

Hong Kong Champion Stayer Russian Emperor.
Hong Kong Champion Stayer Russian Emperor.

Harbouring modest expectations with Russian Emperor ahead of the HK$5.35 million G2 Sha Tin Trophy Handicap (1600m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (15 October), Douglas Whyte hopes the dual Hong Kong Champion Stayer can lay the foundations for a fruitful campaign with a solid performance.

With a focus on the HK$118 million LONGINES Hong Kong International Races on 10 December, and a clear appreciation of Russian Emperor’s need for much longer trips, Whyte still expects his regally-bred gelding to show the benefits of a good spell.

“He’s summered well, he’s actually come up probably the best this season than he has the past two seasons. For unknown reasons, I’m not sure, he’s really enjoying doing what he’s doing. He’s good in his action and more so he’s very, very healthy – he looks amazing,” Whyte said of the four-time Group 1 winner.

“I sat on him on Tuesday morning (10 October) on the turf and, albeit there was a bit of give in the ground, he felt amazing. He worked really well.

“Sunday’s race is too short, there is no expectation. He’s starting off his campaign, so I would just like him to run home and finish off and I’ll be very happy.”

Douglas Whyte has snared four Group 1s with Russian Emperor.
Douglas Whyte has snared four Group 1s with Russian Emperor.

Whyte will follow a familiar path with the six-year-old, who has the unique distinction of winning in four different racing jurisdictions – Ireland, England, Hong Kong and Qatar – while all three of his Hong Kong victories have come at elite level.

After Sunday’s outing, Whyte will target the G2 BOCHK Jockey Club Cup (2000m) on 19 November before contemplating another tilt at the HK$36 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m) on 10 December.

“Then obviously, I’ve got my eye on going back to Qatar again,” Whyte said, referencing a second tilt at the QAT G1 H.H. The Amir Trophy (2400m), which Russian Emperor won in last February.

“He’s a year older but mentally and physically, I would say he’s better than going into this season than last season – for some unknown reason – but he’s a healthy horse. I’ve worked out a programme. His gallops, his trials – everything – it’s a better programme for him as he gets older. You analyse things and he seems to have accepted that and appreciated that.

“He grows an extra leg, a couple of lengths with give in the ground, but you saw when he won the (G1 Standard Chartered) Champions & Chater (Cup, 2400m) on firm track that he’s learnt to let down – but he does let down better when there’s give in the ground.”

The Sha Tin Trophy is headed by California Spangle (135lb), Russian Emperor (127lb) and Beauty Eternal (123lb) and also features two quality stayers from Caspar Fownes’ stable – Senor Toba (116lb) and Straight Arron (115lb) – in the 10-runner field.

Caspar Fownes has 10 winners so far this season.
Caspar Fownes has 10 winners so far this season.

Fownes hopes dual Hong Kong G3 winner Senor Toba can rebound from the challenges of a mixed 2022/23 season.

“He’s pleased me. He’s run a couple of nice trials and he’s closed off well and he looks very enthusiastic and I would be expecting him to come back to his former glory this season – he’s had valid excuses the past few runs and it’s hard to compete when you’re coming back with mucus,” Fownes said of the grey.

“There was no reason for it (mucus in the trachea). There was a trigger that was causing for it. He’s always been a good clean-winded horse and there was something that was affecting him, so we gave it time and a couple of different treatments and now we’re just back to starting a fresh season with him.

“He looks quite zestful and I think he might just be one that will close off quite nicely on Sunday even though it’s only a mile and then obviously we look forward to the staying races with him and get back to some consistent racing with him.

“He’s rated 110 so any horse at that mark in Hong Kong is capable on any given day.”

To be ridden by Keith Yeung, Senor Toba will start from barrier two, while Straight Arron will jump from gate nine under Harry Bentley.

“Straight Arron’s getting there. I was very happy with his first-up run over seven (furlongs), now it’s getting a little bit better. He’ll show something over 1600m and when he gets to 1800-2000m, that’s when he’ll be in a position to show his potential.

“He’s in good form. He looks well and I hope he runs accordingly,” Fownes said.

Sunday’s (15 October) 10-race Sha Tin card starts with the Class 5 Wo Che Handicap (2000m) at 1pm.

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