By Scott Burton/HKJC
Hong Kong: Skalleti may have run only once before at G1 level but French trainer Jerome Reynier is confident of a big performance from the grey gelding when he takes on Magical in the Longines Hong Kong Cup on Sunday.
The five-year-old finished in front of the Coolmore flagbearer at Ascot on British Champions Day in October and will cross swords again with the mighty mare – as well as defending champion Win Bright, the highly-tried Danon Premium and a resurgent Furore in the HK$28 million (£2.7m) showpiece.
The sight of Skalleti and stablemate Royal Julius hacking around the Sha Tin sand on Monday morning was an early reminder of one of the most enduring lessons for Sha Tin work watchers in the week leading up to the LHKIR: namely that the French will never run the risk of leaving their race behind by overdoing things in the run-up.
“They are both ready and we won’t be reinventing the wheel this week,” explained Reynier, who is based at Calas, near Marseilles. “At Calas they are used to working on a rising track which is quite deep so I won’t be asking serious questions on a firm flat track. They’ll just be cantering away on the sand, you won’t see them on the turf before Sunday.”
Skalleti has enjoyed an inexorable rise up the ranks under a patient Reynier, who has masterminded campaigns at four and five that have produced six wins across Listed, G3 and G2 level, before finally taking the plunge at the top level when finding only Addeybb too strong in the Qipco Champion Stakes.
That race, in which Magical was a staying-on third, came just a fortnight after he had completed back-to-back successes in the Prix Dollar.
“On top of that he had a change of surroundings because I kept him in Chantilly rather than head back to Calas, given the logistical issues with going to Britain,” Reynier said.
“It wasn’t a straightforward preparation but he showed he absolutely belongs at G1 level on his first try.
“On Sunday he needs to show he is up to that same level in very different circumstances, around two turns and on good ground and against opposition which is very used to such a set up. We beat Magical last time but this might be more to her taste and we are here to see what we can do.”
Although Skalleti’s best form has come on heavy ground, Reynier doesn’t believe his stable star should be pigeonholed.
“He is quite exceptional,” said the trainer. “It is rare to have a horse that can win a Premio Roma and two Prix Dollars on heavy ground going right-handed, who can also win on the all-weather at left-handed Marseille-Vivaux and a Prix Quincey up a straight 1,600m at Deauville on good ground.
“He adapts to anything,” Reynier added. “I am quite confident and he’s a horse that never disappoints.”
Warming to his theme, he went on: “In the Quincey he was up against a real specialist over 1600 metres on good ground in the shape of Stunning Spirit, and he left him for dead. And Pierre-Charles [Boudot] gets on with him very well, so that’s another advantage.”
Stablemate Royal Julius and Mickael Barzalona might just fly under the radar in the Hong Kong Vase.
“We’ve had some fabulous days with him but he comes here off the back of two average performances,” said Reynier. “He didn’t enjoy the heavy ground in the Arc and at Rome the race circumstances were somewhat unusual.
“But his two second places in Milan were both very good. He is a horse that can get a little disheartened and so things need to go right for him.
“That said, it’s a small field with only two horses that stand out in Mogul and Exultant. Third place looks up for grabs so we have everything to gain and nothing to lose, safe in the knowledge he is in good form.
“On good ground going right-handed at between 2,000m and 2,400m, he is capable of putting up a very good performance if he is in the mood.”
• Singapore star Inferno has been withdrawn from the Hong Kong Sprint after being found to be lame in his near-fore.
• More about the Longines Hong Kong International Races at the HKJC website