Hong Kong Harry Returns in Contentious G2 City of Hope Mile

September 28, 2023

Hong Kong Harry victorious in the 2022 edition of the Del Mar Mile (G2) (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

Santa Anita Stable Notes by Victor Ryan

ARCADIA, Calif.— As would be expected when running the top turf barn in California, trainer Phil D’Amato looks to have a pair of live chances in Saturday’s GII City of Hope at a mile on turf.

Set to go for D’Amato are multiple graded-stakes winner Hong Kong Harry, who has been off since the GI Shoemaker Mile here May 29, and Cathkin Peak, who was a close-up second in last year’s City of Hope.

In the Shoemaker Mile, Hong Kong Harry finished third by 1 ½ lengths to winner Exaulted, who earned an automatic bid to the Breeders’ Cup Mile with the victory and is bypassing the City of Hope. Hong Kong Harry was subsequently given the summer off by design before returning to the work tab in late July at Del Mar.

In the City of Hope, Hong Kong Harry will be ridden for the first time by Santa Anita’s perennial leading rider Juan Hernandez.

“We freshened him up and he’s come back in good order,” D’Amato said of the 6-year-old Irish-bred gelding. “He’ll have a new pilot and hopefully he’s ready to go.”

Cathkin Peak (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

Cathkin Peak was most recently a troubled seventh, beaten 2 ¾ lengths, in the GII Del Mar Handicap at 1 3/8 miles. The City of Hope will be his third start following a nearly 10-month layoff.

“We experimented running him 1 3/8 miles last time and I think it was a little too far, so we’re going to cut him back to a mile. He ran good in this race last year,” D’Amato noted.

In last year’s City of Hope, Cathkin Peak was beaten just three-quarters of a length when second to Beyond Brilliant. That was the final race of his 4-year-old campaign.

D’Amato is expecting a big effort from Cathkin Peak on Saturday.

“He’s coming in good. In fact, he’s trained extremely well,” D’Amato said. “I think he’s the dark horse in the race.”

Among the D’Amato pairs chief rivals are Twist for John Sadler and Astronomer for Simon Callaghan.

Twist (Benoit Photo)

Twist was beaten just 2 ½ lengths by winner Du Jour in the GII Del Mar Mile despite a troubled trip on Sept. 2. With Kent Desormeaux up, Twist hopped at the start, found traffic leaving the second turn and then had to check at the stretch. Sadler feels it was enough to cost Twist a better placing.

“We thought he would have been second without the trouble line, but he wasn’t going to beat the winner,” Sadler said of the 6-year-old gelding bred in France. “He’s come back and trained really well. He’s on an improving-type pattern and didn’t get beat too far, so we’re going to give him another chance.”

Desormeaux will be replaced by Hector Berrios, who guided Twist to an allowance win at Del Mar prior to the Del Mar Mile.

“Hector gave him a really a good ride last time,” Sadler said.

Astronomer has run well in two starts after being sidelined for 16-plus months due to what Callaghan said was bone bruising. Owned by Michael Tabor and Alice Bamford, the 4-year-old gelding by Air Force Blue flashed speed and faded in an allowance at Del Mar July 21, but then returned with a promising upset victory at the level Aug. 19 at Del Mar.

“We’ve had high hopes for him since he was a 2-year-old,” Callaghan said. “We had to be patient through his 3-year-old year. We’re really looking forward to see how he does against these better horses. We think he fits.”

The City of Hope goes as the 10th and final race on Saturday’s card. Post time is approximately 5:30 p.m. Pacific. The field in post position order: Il Bellator, Alejandro Gomez (15-1; War At Sea, Victor Espinoza (8-1); Hit the Road, Joe Bravo (15-1; Hong Kong Harry, Juan Hernandez (5-2); Astronomer, Antonio Fresu (6-1); Flavius, Jose Valdivia Jr. (12-1); Twist, Hector Berrios (3-1); Cathkin Peak, Umberto Rispoli (4-1); Irideo, Mike Smith (8-1).

@PastTheWire Great read brought back some sad memories.The only race she lost killed her. Legacy. @jonathanstettin pic.twitter.com/Jx9WF7OjUe

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