Star Australian hoop Craig Williams would love to ride this weekend’s 2013 Hong Kong Vase winner believing his mount in the Sha Tin classic Mount Athos is deserving of a Group 1 triumph.
Williams rode the Luca Cumani-trained European stayer for the first time last month in the ‘race that stops a nation’ at Flemington.
There the impressive son of Montjeu ran an incredibly brave third to the Gai Waterhouse-trained winner Fiorente in the Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m), Williams guiding them through the field from barrier 22 of 24, which was just their third elite level start.
Their first was in last year’s Melbourne Cup where they finished fifth to Green Moon before going on 19 days later to run a disappointing 12th behind Gentildonna in the Group 1 Japan Cup (2413m) in Tokyo.
They get a fourth go at the big time on Sunday when they take on a talented field of 13 rivals in the HK$15 million Group 1 Hong Kong Vase (2400m).
It would be a huge thing for Mount Athos to break their Group 1 duck too as they’ve had just two Group 3 victories and a Listed win over their 27 start career so far.
They are on track to do so too according to Cumani’s international assistant Charlie Henson who said they had travelled well this time.
“Obviously he has a bit of experience flying on his side now, having gone to the Melbourne Cup last year and Japan,” Henson said.
“But I’ve never had a horse that has travelled to Melbourne better than he did this year. And he’s jumping out of his skin since he arrived here (in Hong Kong).”
It’s shaping up as a crack edition of the Hong Kong International Race Day classic though with markets led by the John Gosden-trained Breeder’s Cup Turf runner-up The Fugue ($2.90).
A multiple Group 1 champion the Dansili filly enjoyed back-to-back elite level victories in Europe earlier this season taking out the Yorkshire Oaks – Irish Champion Stakes double before her trip to America where she was beaten just half a length by Magician on November 2.
The second line of Hong Kong Vase betting is then led by a horse familiar to the Aussie punters, dual Melbourne Cup runner-up Red Cadeaux ($5.50) who won last year’s Vase.
After going down to Dunaden in the closest Melbourne Cup finish in history back in 2011, Red Cadeaux proved age was no barrier when the eight-year-old came within three quarters of a length of Fiorente in this year’s race having overcome barrier 23 of 24 and their 60-1 price.
Mount Athos then is the $7.50 third favourite in the Hong Kong Vase odds, a price Williams hopes is paid out to the punters.
Always honest, Mount Athos’s international racing career is far from that of Red Cadeaux’s.
They’ve travelled outside of the UK just the two times for their Melbourne Cup, and Japan Cup, bids.
Williams however hopes they can rise to the challenge on Sunday as they look to be enjoying their time in Hong Kong and ready to peak over the mile and a half.
“From all reports he is thriving in Hong Kong. He is a quality galloper who deserves a Group 1 win, and he now is versatile,” Williams told the Herald Sun on Tuesday.
“He came from the rear in the Melbourne Cup last year but I ran him on the pace this year and he was super. It’s really good for me to know we’ve got options.
“It will be five weeks since the Cup and he’s been freshened. It would just be nice to get a better barrier than we did in the Cup and not have to work so hard early.”
While the distance is one they boast two wins over, Mount Athos failed to come back to the 2400m in the Japan Cup last year off the two miles in Melbourne which is the only concern Williams has again here.
To help get them there expat Aussie jockey Zac Purton rode Mount Athos is a testing track gallop on the turf at Sha Tin last Saturday, Williams yet to arrive in Hong Kong.
“We really let him down from the 600m and let him stretch his legs in the straight,” Purton said, Mount Athos completing the last 400m in 22.6 seconds.
“He lengthened really well in the straight and he is going to be pretty hard to beat.”
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