01/30/2017 11:57AM

Helene Paragon leads Moore parade in Stewards Cup

Hong Kong Jockey Club
Helene Paragon beat Joyful Trinity by three-quarters of a length, and paid $6.30 to win.

Helene Paragon led a sweep of the top three placings for trainer John Moore in the Group 1, $1.29 million Stewards Cup on Monday at Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong.

Helene Paragon beat Joyful Trinity by three-quarters of a length, with Able Friend an unlucky third. The winner, a 5-year-old Spanish import who was bred in France and originally named Sir Andrew, is a son of Polan out of the High Chaparral mare High Zaff. On a cool, wet afternoon, he was timed in 1:34.68 for 1,600 meters (about one mile) on a course rated “good.”

Helene Paragon was among the best 4-year-olds in Hong Kong last racing season and ended his campaign with consecutive wins, but he was slow to find his best form this winter before unleashing a furious rally from the back of the field to finish a fast-closing second in the Group 1 Hong Kong Mile on Dec. 11.

Under jockey Tommy Berry on Monday, and racing before a huge crowd still celebrating the Chinese New Year, Helene Paragon broke from post 3 and raced midpack and between horses much of his journey. He traveled strongly in the bridle around the race’s one turn, pulling his way into contention, and, when Berry switched out at the 400-meter mark, looking for his final push, Helene Paragon had the power and athleticism to drive through a small opening that the rider of Giant Treasure to the outside sought vainly to close. Once clear of traffic and about five paths off the fence, Helene Paragon powered home, cutting down the five horses in front of him the final 300 meters in a very solid victory, his first at the Group 1 level. He paid $6.30 to win on the North American tote.

Moore said he plans to give Helene Paragon a prep race in Hong Kong for the $6 million Dubai Turf on March 25 at Meydan.

Joyful Trinity finished third behind Helene Paragon in the Hong Kong Mile and was fairly beaten by his stablemate again Monday. Racing near the back of the field, he was unable to get into striking position on the turn, but finished strongly on the outside once straightening into the homestretch.

Able Friend ran his best race since returning last fall from a long layoff and two injuries. Drawn widest, Able Friend was guided over the rail shortly after the start and raced second-last into the turn, but he was into the bit from the start Monday and carried jockey Joao Moreira into a decent spot by the time the field came off the turn. Moreira tried to steer wide for a stretch run, but Able Friend’s path was completely cut off, forcing Moreira to check and swing back inside, and even then the massive former Hong Kong champion did not find clear running. He finished strongly for third and looks poised to win for the first time since October 2015.

Peniaphobia wires Sprint

Peniaphobia also won for the first time this Hong Kong season when leading from start to finish in the Group 2, $1.03 million Centenary Sprint.

Breaking on top and quickly crossing over to lead under Neil Callan, Peniaphobia led on a relatively slow pace over rain-softened turf he is reported to relish. Heavily favored Lucky Bubbles, who secured an ideal position racing behind cover while two-wide, briefly appeared to be gaining on Peniaphobia 300 meters out, but the front-runner kept on gamely and got to the line with three-quarters of a length to spare. He was timed in 1:09.15 for the 1,200 meters.
Peniaphobia won the Centenary Sprint two seasons ago, and his victory Monday marked the fifth in the race for trainer Tony Cruz. The 6-year-old Ireland-bred gelding, by Dandy Man, was slow to find his stride this season, but had improved in his last two runs before coming fully back into form Monday. Peniaphobia finished third in the Al Quoz Sprint last March in Dubai and second in that race two years ago, and is a candidate to start in it again this year, according to Cruz.