11/17/2016 5:10PM

Able Friend readies for major race

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Three Group 2 preps for major Group 1 events Dec. 11 in Hong Kong headline the Sunday card at Sha Tin Racecourse, with Able Friend, the 2015 Hong Kong Horse of the Year, set to return from a long layoff in the $515,000 BOCHK Handicap.

Seven-year-old Able Friend, an Australian import, is one of 10 entered in the BOCHK, a 1,200-meter race around a right-handed turn. Able Friend last started Dec. 13, when he finished third in the Group 1 Hong Kong Mile, a race he won in 2014. The 2014 HK Mile victory was one of six straight wins that led to a trip to Royal Ascot, where Able Friend could not produce close to his best form, finishing sixth in the 2015 Queen Anne Stakes, the race Tepin won this year.

Able Friend was taken out of training to recover in Australia from a tendon injury, and he then suffered a hind-end injury in a freak incident following his return to Hong Kong this fall. But Able Friend finished a willing third in a recent training race at Sha Tin, and has continued pleasing trainer John Moore in daily training. Moore forecasts a strong showing on Sunday, but while Able Friend won over this distance of about six furlongs in his first start after his last layoff, the distance definitely is on the short side for the large-bodied, late-running gelding. How he performs Sunday will determine whether his connections aim for the Hong Kong Mile or the Hong Kong Sprint on the Dec. 11 big-race card at Sha Tin.

Peniaphobia is the BOCHK’s top-weighted starter, carrying 128 pounds, but Lucky Bubbles, who finished powerfully winning the Premier Bowl Handicap on Oct. 23, might be the strongest competition.

The three major players in the $515,000 Jockey Club Cup over about 1 1/4 miles are Designs on Rome, Blazing Speed, and Military Attack. Blazing Speed was a strong third in the Group 1 Hong Kong Cup last December, but though he finished a useful second going short of his best trip in an Oct. 23 comeback race, Blazing Speed hasn’t won at 1 1/4 miles since April 2015. Military Attack makes his first start of the Hong Kong season, and the 8-year-old is likely to need his first start off the bench. Designs on Rome already got in his comeback run, beating Blazing Speed on Oct. 23.

Giant Treasure would be the one to beat in the $515,000 BOCHK Wealth Management Jockey Club over about one mile with something close to his best form. Giant Treasure won the prestigious Group 1 Stewards Cup and was second to Maurice in the Hong Kong Cup last season, but finished off his last campaign with three poor runs and was only 10th in his October comeback, albeit at a distance short of his best. Beauty Only already has made two starts during the season, finishing well in both of them, and could be the right one for Sunday’s race.

Also in action Sunday is the exciting prospect Pakistan Star, whose last-to-first style produced eye-catching wins in his first two Hong Kong starts. Pakistan Star had a poor draw and was left with too much to do chasing home the sharp Mr. Bogart in an Oct. 16 handicap, but he stretches from seven furlongs to one mile while getting weight from nine of his rivals in the ninth of 10 races Sunday.

The card begins at 2 a.m. Eastern, with post time for the first of the Group 2’s, race 6, set for 4:30 a.m. Eastern.