John Moore hopes he has found the key to unlocking Thanks Forever’s absolute best as the consistent four-year-old seeks a first Group race victory in the Group 3 Sha Tin Vase Handicap (1200m) at Sha Tin on Sunday, 24 May.
The Duporth gelding has raced 10 times this season for one win and seven placings, including two top-three finishes at Group 1 level. Moore believes the latest of those, behind Mr Stunning in the Group 1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m), could have given him the knowledge he needs to enable further improvement.
“What we learnt from the run is that he has a short run,” Moore said. “Blake (Shinn) made his run and I thought he was going to sustain it right to the line and be strong through the line which he wasn’t at the 150 (metres).
“He looked like he was going to win the race but he bottomed on his run, so from that point of view Zac (Purton) has to be very mindful of that – he doesn’t have a long run,” Moore said.
After hitting the front on a last-to-first surge in last month’s FWD Champions Day feature, Thanks Forever bottomed on his run as Mr Stunning and Big Time Baby passed him.
Three-time champion jockey Zac Purton will be up top for only the second time this season and the pair will break from gate two.
“This time we’ve got the gun gate, last time we drew the grandstand and we had to go back otherwise he would have been trapped three or four deep,” Moore said.
Showers are predicted to continue through Sunday but the prospect of a rain-affected surface is of no concern to the seven-time champion trainer.
“He’s done everything right. His work from the 1800-metre chute on Monday was good, the feedback from the work rider was very positive and he enjoyed that cut in the ground,” Moore said.
“We all know that the Duporth’s love the cut in the ground and it looks as though, judging by the current weather conditions, we are going to have some give in the ground, so that will be in his favour.”
The four-time winner endured a slow start to his career, forced to the sidelines after his debut win in June 2018 due to a stress fracture in his left tibia.
“He’s been a late-maturing sprinter, he hasn’t been comfortable in the past among other horses but it seems we’ve overcome that now and he seems to be able to get back in there amongst them,” the handler said.
Also in the competitive field of eight is Hot King Prawn (133lb), who like Thanks Forever (127lb) is looking to have his consistency rewarded in the form of a cheque for first prize, though the John Size-trained grey’s task is a touch more difficult under top-weight.
“His chance is there even with top-weight,” jockey Joao Moreira said. “The handicapper has them tighter than they’ve been in the past. There’s no doubt that Hot King Prawn’s going to be competitive, particularly as the ground is probably going to be wet and he’s performed well before on ground that was a little softer than normal,” the Brazilian ace said.
The consistent five-year-old has placed in three Group 1 races this term and twice at Group 2 level from seven starts for one win which came at Class 1 level where he defeated Thanks Forever by half a length.
Hot King Prawn is one of three greys in the race, the other is the Frankie Lor-trained Big Party who earlier this season won the Group 3 Bauhinia Sprint Trophy Handicap (1000m). The third grey in the race is the Me Tsui-trained Dragon General (113lb).
“The prospect of a wet track on Sunday is ok for him, the one time he raced on it over the 1000-metre straight it was raining,” Lor said.
The trainer admits though that while talented, the Exceed And Excel gelding has his quirks.
“This horse is a little bit tricky, sometimes he runs good, sometimes he runs poorly, I think his mind is playing on it; sometimes you can see he wins easy then sometimes he’s scared of some horses,” Lor said.
“You don’t know when he wants to go, because in the morning he can be very lazy and you can’t see anything.”
The four-year-old has raced 12 times for five wins and will be paired with Chad Schofield from gate eight.
The field also features Wishful Thinker (125lb), Fat Turtle (115lb), Jolly Banner (113lb) and Waldorf (113lb).