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Cordyceps Six gives Gibson a classic quandary

Talented four-year-old sprinter Cordyceps Six has been entered for a Classic Mile assignment at the end of January and if he takes that stamina stretching route he will be in good company.

Cordyceps Six has never raced beyond 1200 metres. (Photo by HKJC)

It’s mid-January and a talented sprinter is sitting high in the four-year-old pecking order with the Classic Series fast-approaching. The scenario creates a quandary that arises most years: Do connections stick to the tried 1200-metre route or do they convince themselves the crop looks weak, thumb their nose at the pedigree page, and go down the uncertain path that takes them through the first leg of the three-race generational test, the Hong Kong Classic Mile?

This is where Richard Gibson finds himself with Cordyceps Six. The Catherina Yim Wai-ling-owned gelding is among the 22 entries for the 1600-metre feature on January 29: he is top-rated on a mark of 111 – 11 points higher than the next best on paper – but all of his races have been at either 1000 metres or 1200 metres.

The son of Star Turn is a Group 3 winner and finished seventh behind his stablemate Wellington in the G1 Hong Kong Sprint two starts ago. He was last seen racing at Sha Tin a week or so ago in a 1000-metre Group 3 dash.

The alternative to taking on his peers over a distance he has never attempted is to again go up against Hong Kong’s best sprinters, including Wellington, in the G1 Centenary Sprint Cup over 1200 metres on the same day as the Classic Mile.    

“You’ve got to weigh up both races and then make a decision,” Gibson told Asian Racing Report. “We’re just keeping our options open and we’ll discuss it with the owner.”

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Richard Gibson receives the trophy after Wellington's G1 Hong Kong Sprint victory. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

The list is long of sprinters trying to stretch their stamina in the Classic Series, with owners hooked on the tantalising dream of the Hong Kong Derby, the city’s most coveted race. Champion sprinter Lucky Nine famously won the 2011 Classic Mile after placing seventh in the Hong Kong Sprint the previous month, but he at least was proven already over 1400 metres.

But once a horse with suspect stamina steps into the Classic Mile, there is the temptation to continue on to the 1800-metre Classic Cup and even beyond that to the 2000-metre Hong Kong Derby, no matter a horse’s probable distance limitations.

Lucky Nine is not the only top-class sprinter to have gone the Classic Series route and other notables are Little Bridge and Cape Of Good Hope. The former won the G1 King’s Stand Stakes over 1000 metres and the latter’s feature sprint wins included the G1 Golden Jubilee Stakes and the G1 Australia Stakes.

The plug was pulled on Lucky Nine’s classic run when he finished second in the Classic Cup but his peer Little Bridge skipped that race, having finished fifth in the Classic Mile, only to pop up again in the Derby as a $30 chance. He was a distant last of 14, the same position as Cape Of Good Hope in the 2002 Derby.  

More recent examples are the high-class sprinter Blizzard, placed in the Mile and Cup before finishing down the field in the Derby, and the subsequent Group 2-winning sprinter Lucky Patch whose fourth in the Classic Mile two years ago tempted connections to the Classic Cup, in which he was only 12th.

Lucky Patch ahead of his unplaced Classic Cup run. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

There are plenty of others, including the Class 2 sprinter Ima Single Man who contested all three legs last year, running a couple of places worse each time he stepped up in trip.

Gibson in fact won the Classic Mile in 2013 with the top-class Gold-Fun who went on to be third behind stablemate Akeed Mofeed in that year’s Derby. He proved to be a genuine Group 1 sprinter-miler and won the 2015 Chairman’s Sprint Prize after being crowned Hong Kong’s champion miler the season prior.

The Englishman now has a tricky call to make as he clearly believes Cordyceps Six has more to offer over 1200 metres than he has shown so far this term.

“I think if anything he’s been a bit unlucky this season, there have been a few races I think we could have hoped for a better result but that’s the way it goes sometimes,” he said. “He was a long way back in the Hong Kong Sprint, I was surprised he was so far back.

“It’s a question of do we roll the dice with the mile or do we roll the dice with the best sprinters in Hong Kong? They’re both tough options.” 

That is the question for now. But if Gibson opts in, the question then will be how far down the classic trail does he go if Cordyceps Six runs a decent race?

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