Hong Kong hero ready and Able for Royal Ascot bid
Newmarket's lush plains are very different to what Able Friend is used to in the metropolis of Hong Kong.
"He's never seen so much grass - he's like a kid in the park," said trainer John Moore, who is hoping the chestnut can consolidate his standing among the global elite by beating Solow and Night Of Thunder in a sizzling Royal Ascot opener for the Queen Anne Stakes.
Able Friend is literally the giant of Asian racing. He weighs over 90st - around 13st more than the average Hong Kong horse - and replays of his latest victories show how he uses his long stride to devastating effect.
The five-year-old has won his most recent six starts and was ranked as the world's joint-best racehorse until recently being usurped by the Triple Crown hero American Pharoah.
"He's got to do it on the world stage and the kinds of horses he's got to take on to prove himself don't always come to Hong Kong, even at our international meetings," Moore said. "There's no better place to do that than Ascot, which is the greatest meeting on the planet, possibly better than the Melbourne Carnival."
Like his 65-year-old trainer, Able Friend was born in Australia and bought by Moore's son George.
After a couple of starts in Sydney, he was transported to Hong Kong and has raced exclusively at Sha Tin. "We know he's had the travelling, there's the trip and the straight mile and the undulations but we believe Able Friend can overcome all of those issues," Moore said. "Everything has gone according to plan, and using Michael Bell's stables here has been fantastic. On his last run in the Champions Mile, the CEO said another 5,000 people had come through the gates at Sha Tin after the fifth race.
"He was of the opinion that they had come specifically to see Able Friend. It's very special and reaching something like Silent Witness, which was very popular in Asia a few years ago."
Moore likes to stay for the week but this will be a whistlestop tour as he faces a battle for his sixth Hong Kong trainers' title. Able Friend is likely to return soon himself, his Sussex Stakes entry made only as a fall-back option.