El Toro is John Moore’s pet name for Helene Paragon and the talented entire was bull-like at Sha Tin, Monday 30th January, powering to a breakthrough Group 1 score in the HK$10 million Stewards’ Cup (1600m).
Tommy Berry was forced to angle Helene Paragon out of a tight spot at the top of the final stretch, penned, as he was, inside Giant Treasure. Neil Callan was determined to maintain a restrictive straight course aboard that rival, but Berry and his belligerent mount had other ideas, the pair forcing an opening to a clear run home.
Berry said: “It’s a Group 1 race and there’s never an inch given. You expect that in Group 1s, especially here in Hong Kong.
“I knew I was on the right horse to do what I did, and if I wasn’t I probably wouldn’t have done it because I put myself in a sticky spot – when I pushed out he wanted to go again.
“Horses don’t usually push out like that and balance up and quicken as well as he does – usually it takes them a few strides. It shows his quality.”
Helene Paragon accelerated from back in the field to lead within the final 100 metres. The winning margin was a commanding three quarters of a length over stablemate Joyful Trinity with another Moore trainee, Able Friend, third; the winning time was 1m 34.38s, with a closing 400m split of 22.75s.
Moore said: “That was a great result – first three home. And it was a bit of payback with respect to not winning the Hong Kong Mile.
“Tommy called him a bulldog and I call him El Toro, so he’s well-named coming out of Spain.”
Helene Paragon began his career with a juvenile maiden win at San Sebastian, Spain, and retains an enthusiastic following in those parts.
Moore continued: “He had to force a passage today; he bulldogged his way out and got to the line really strongly.
“He beat Beauty Only by the margin I thought he would have beaten him by in the Hong Kong Mile – I thought he was a bit unlucky not to win that.”
Moore intends to take the winner to Dubai for the G1 Dubai Turf (1800m) at Meydan on 25th March, after a warm-up in next month’s G1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m) at Sha Tin. But Berry is not certain to be on board.
Moore said: “We have an international entry in the Dubai Turf but that’s a big race-day in Australia so I’m not sure if Tommy will be available, but Joao’s (Moreira) ready and waiting for the call-up.”
Helene Paragon’s success handed Moore a third Stewards’ Cup win; the trainer triumphed previously with Distinction (1987) – when the race was a 1400m limited handicap – and Able Friend (2015).
Able Friend was the day’s hard luck story. The big chestnut found trouble in the home straight before running on from deep to claim third, a further neck behind Joyful Trinity. The former Horse of the Year’s closing split was clocked at 22.72s.
Moore said: “Everything went right today, except for Able Friend.
“After looking at the replays a couple of times, I’d have to say he was very unlucky in running. He got a chequered passage in the race and Moreira will probably say that he’d have won with a clear passage.
“But he’s run admirably considering all the setbacks. He’s come back from a huge setback but he’ll be back again in the 1400, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup next month, and he’ll be the one to beat.”
Gerald Mosse was thrilled with Joyful Trinity’s run. He declared: “Beautiful! I tried everything but he was too good for me.
“I’m extremely happy with him – nothing to complain about, I got a good run. He kicked very well, he gave me his best; he still finished there, he’s still in the picture, he’s very honest.”
Moore, meanwhile, was also pleased with the first-up run of last season’s Horse of the Year, Werther. The five-year-old, having his first outing since an injury setback late last season, finished three and a quarter lengths sixth.
Moore commented: “After all the setbacks, Werther’s run today was worthy of praise – he’ll be back ready for the Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m). He gets fit very quickly, he doesn’t carry a lot of middle and I’m very happy with him today.”
Hong Kong Mile winner Beauty Only attempted to deliver his trademark late run down centre track but managed only fifth, a length and a half behind the winner.