HONG KONG// The team behind Eagle Mountain's bid to win unprecedented back-to-back Hong Kong Cups sought to play down expectations, despite getting a decent draw yesterday for the Dh4.3million contest at Sha Tin. In contrast to the bullish bulletins of 12 months ago, the five-year-old's injury problems - which caused him to have 11 months away from the track - have left trainer Mike De Kock's outfit up against it in Sunday's Cathay Pacific sponsored race.
With the South African handler en route to the Far East, his assistant Steven Jell drew stall one of the 10 and said afterwards: "Mike told me to pull something decent - and it's better to be drawn one than 10. Jump out of the gate and be right up there. "Since he injured his ligaments in Dubai in March, he's been recovering most of the year and his last run three weeks ago was something he really needed.
"He's a special type of horse to work with but we're on our backfoot here, it's not as easy as last year that's for sure. We were very confident last year, very confident." Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum's star faces stellar opponents in France's Vision D'Etat and Britain's Presvis in this finale to the international Flat season. Presvis, course and distance winner over 10 furlongs when taking the QEII Cup in April, has a wide draw but that doesn't bother his experienced trainer Luca Cumani.
"Drawn nine doesn't really matter for him because he is a horse that always gets behind to begin with, what's more important to him is that he gets a clear passage in the straight," the Italian said. "He's a professional traveller now, he's been all over the world. This year he's had three races in Dubai and then back here and then Singapore, a prep race in England and then he flies out from here to Dubai on Tuesday. As a result we've had to manage his workload and not go hammer and tongs in preparation for this while doing as much as we can."
The powerhouse stable of John Moore received rotten luck with the draws yesterday - almost all of their fancied runners are stuck with wide outside berths in their races. The misfortunes of their two biggest hopes, Hong Kong Derby hero Collection, drawn 10 of 10 in the Cup, and the highly fancied Happy Zero, drawn 11 of 14 in the Hong Kong Mile, left the Moore team unhappy with their lot. The stable jockey Darren Beadman tried to put a brave face on matters by vowing to give the horses "10 out of 10" rides but, even allowing for the Australian's brilliance in the saddle, they will require a lot of luck, despite Sha Tin's reputation as one of the fairest courses in the world.
In favour of Happy Zero, who looks as though he will relish a step up in distance, the Hong Kong Mile appears to be a weaker renewal than in previous years, although it does have Good Ba Ba (drawn nine) going for a third consecutive third win in the race. Rider Olivier Doleuze says the gelding, who was rated the world's best miler after demolishing the competition 12 months ago, is back to his best.
"He needed his previous races to be at his peak but now I think he is there, the horse looked perfect in the morning. If he was the only local horse I would be very confident but with the foreigners it's the unknown." One such overseas raider is Godolphin's Alexandros, second by a nose in the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury, who will benefit from a plum draw in stall seven. The boys in blue, always big supporters of this meeting, will be hoping for a big run from their sole representative in this year's races, after they were forced to withdrawn Balius and Campanologist last week because of fitness concerns.