12/08/2016 12:50PM

Able Friend will have crowd's heart, if not bets

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Hong Kong Jockey Club
Satono Aladdin worked sharply Wednesday ahead of the Hong Kong Mile.

HONG KONG – If you enjoy rooting home the best story in a big race, Able Friend is your horse in the Hong Kong Mile.

The charismatic 7-year-old, whose massive frame is unmistakable when swinging into action late in a race, will seek his second Hong Kong Mile victory Sunday at Sha Tin after coming back from injuries that cost him most of 2016.

Players who like cashing bets, however, may wish to look elsewhere.

Able Friend is the most recognizable name in the Mile; his rivals have not reached his heights.

But he is not the most likely winner, although it’s a question as to exactly who is.

The 14-strong field in the $3 million Mile breaks from the gate at about 3:50 p.m. local time (2:50 a.m. Eastern) and travels parallel to the Shing Mung River for a little less than half the trip before swinging into the race’s one right-handed turn.

Able Friend may have been the world’s best miler the second half of 2014 and the first part of 2015, but little has gone right since a failed trip to Royal Ascot in June 2015. It is fair, at his age, to wonder if Able Friend, even in an ideal world, can approach his lifetime best. Because of setbacks, Able Friend has gotten in only one six-furlong race, finishing fourth Nov. 24, preparing for the Mile.

“His fitness is suspect, so I’m worried,” trainer John Moore said.

The Mile should run at a fair tempo, with locally based Beauty Flame the likely pacesetter. Logotype scored a huge upset as the surprise leader in the Group 1 Yasuda Kinen in Japan earlier this year and figures to be ridden forwardly. Contentment, who has struggled to find his best form this season, is a reliable pressing sort, and another Japanese horse, Neorealism, also races close.

The leading Japanese hope, and the pick to win, is Satono Aladdin, a long-striding late-runner who caught the eye working on turf Wednesday morning, when he got his final 400 meters in less than 22 seconds. Satono Aladdin finished 11th in the Cup here a year ago, but that 2,000-meter distance was beyond his best and the rain that fell race week worked against a horse that wants the fast going he will find this weekend.

Satono Aladdin was part of the muddle finishing behind Logotype in the messy Yasuda Kinen, and he returned in the autumn to stylishly win a Group 2. In the Group 1 Mile Championship on Nov. 20, he was making progress between horses in deep stretch when the drifting front-running winner, Mikki Isle, caused a chain reaction that took away his path and nearly sent Yuga Kawada tumbling to the turf. Satono Aladdin needs clear passage for his big kick, but is up to winning this race if he gets it.

Sun Jewellery, who goes for leading Hong Kong trainer John Size, is another threat at a fair price. The 5-year-old Australian import had a strong 2014-15 season here while Size figured out his best distance, which has turned out to be one mile. Sun Jewellerey, who wants to settle and stalk the pace, was compromised first time out this season when pulling hard racing too close to a very slow pace, and he finished solidly for third in his recent Mile prep.

“He will be a little bit fitter, and I think he has a good chance of winning the race,” Size said.

Beauty Only won that local prep Nov. 20 over Sun Jewellerey, and another contending performance is entirely possible from Beauty Only, a hold-up horse like Satono Aladdin.

And if Able Friend should somehow find it in his big heart to win again – the cheering will be plenty loud, regardless of who has bet what.