Richard Gibson has high hopes that Gold Mount can deliver an overdue Group 1 triumph in Hong Kong's biggest race of all, the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup, at Sha Tin Racecourse this Sunday.
The man with three previous victories at the Hong Kong International Races caused a raised eyebrow or two when the 5-year-old turned up in the Cup field rather than the Hong Kong Vase, but he believes the shorter race is the right target.
“It was a tight call between the two races,” Gibson said. “I don't think there's much in it and I think we've chosen an easier race.”
Gold Mount wears the yellow and red-spotted silks of owner Pan Sutong, a mainstay of the Gibson stable during his first years in Hong Kong. The pair enjoyed major wins with the top-class sprinter/miler Gold-Fun, and, most notably, with Akeed Mofeed, winner of the Hong Kong Derby and the Hong Kong Cup itself in 2013.
But the Gibson-Pan partnership melted away two years ago when the owner opted to send his horses to the Tony Cruz and John Moore stables. Gold Mount, named Primitivo when winning the King George V Handicap at Royal Ascot for trainer Alan King, was sent to Cruz. That was a tough blow to the man who had identified the little bay as an ideal type for Hong Kong.
“I bought this horse myself, so I was disappointed, at the time, not to have trained him. It's nice getting a second opportunity now,” Gibson said.
“You take it all with a pinch of salt,” he added.
Gold Mount has raced 15 times in Hong Kong for three wins but has never saluted above Class 1. And yet, the Excellent Art gelding is one of the best stayers on the Sha Tin block, making the G1 frame when second in the QEII Cup and third in the Champions & Chater Cup last spring, both times behind Pakistan Star.
Those placed efforts, as well as a fifth in last year's Hong Kong Vase were achieved in Gold Mount's trademark style: dropped out at the back, outpaced when the tempo was raised, stayed on for late headway.
Gibson is looking to find a new edge. This morning, Gold Mount wore blinkers for the first time when big-race partner Oisin Murphy worked him along the turf track's backstretch.
“He just did straightforward 1000-meter work with blinkers – Oisin (Murphy) got a feel of him,” the handler said.
“I just think it's a time in his career to roll the dice with him – and if you're going to do it you may as well do it in the big one. He's been a very consistent performer and I think a blanket covers all the Hong Kong runners, so we'll just bring a bit of x-factor with the blinkers and let's hope it works on the big day.”
Murphy was pleased with his first sit on Gold Mount and was positive about the headgear.
“They'll only be a help,” the Irish ace said. “He's an old-ish horse now and he goes round here pretty well. He jumped this morning from the gate and seemed to face the blinkers well – it was easy work.
“He's a fresh horse and he moved very well. He's had two prep runs, and genuinely, they were prep runs. I suppose it's a very wide open race so hopefully he can run well.”
Gibson, clearly, is back in favour with Pan, the Chinese billionaire who owns Goldin Farms – formerly Lindsay Park – in Australia where Akeed Mofeed stands as a stallion.
The handler has fond recollections of Akeed Mofeed, as well as his two-time HKIR hero Doctor Dino from his time based in France.
“Akeed Mofeed was a bit different because I knew going in that we had the best horse in the race. It was just a question of executing,” he said.
“This year's event is a wide open race and I don't think we'll get the fast times that they've been running earlier in the season – I think it'll be a more traditionally-run 2000-metre race, which will suit him.”
It is only natural to think that there would there be an extra burnish to the victory if the horse that at first slipped by were to come out on top at the weekend.
“Yes, I think I'd be pretty chuffed,” Gibson said.
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