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  • Writer's pictureAlan Aitken

It's a season of challenge as time weighs on John Moore's star gallopers

There's no doubt who the king is right now.

In fact, Beauty Generation holds a higher place in the Hong Kong landscape than the usual king as he has been unbeaten and seemingly unbeatable since April, 2018.

Nine straight wins, including 5 G1s, is a streak of invincibility that ranks Beauty Generation up with most of the best that Hong Kong has produced.

The benchmark remains Silent Witness and an unbeaten run of his first 17 races, including 8 G1s, but there is no disgrace in that - Silent Witness was the most dominant racehorse Hong Kong has ever seen.

Even if we cut Silent Witness back to Group races only, his unbeaten streak was 13 races over almost 2 years.

Beauty Generation's connections have indicated that is the record they want to chase down and another unbeaten season for the gelding through 2019-20 would see that achieved.

It all seems so obvious right now but, if horse racing teaches us anything at all, it is that the ancients got it right: time and tide wait for no man. Or horse - the ancients would have been horseplayers.

Age matters for racing horses and that is the underpinning aspect of an intriguing season ahead for two John Moore-trained gallopers - Beauty Generation and three-year-old Aethero (below).

The summer of achievements for most great horses, in general but particularly in the Hong Kong environment, comes at four, five and six years of age.

Unlike other jurisdictions, Group race glory as a three-year-old is limited - all but non-existent for Southern Hemisphere-breds - as there are no restricted Group races for the age group as in other jurisdictions. At whatever level a three-year-old horse might compete, he is thrown in against older horses at every turn. It's a cage fight in which few youngsters prevail.

On the table, you can see that the most Group Ones in Hong Kong since January 1, 2000, have been won by the fully mature horses, the five-year-olds.

Four and six-year-olds have claimed another 94 and just six have gone to three-year-olds since January 1, 2000.

That gets even worse if we break them down further.

Below is a list of three-year-old G1 winners and the things that stick out are which races they have won and where they came from - five of the six were visiting runners for the Hong Kong Cup or Vase, European-bred horses who were only a few weeks from turning four.

The stand out is King Of Danes, the last Australian-bred three-year-old to win a Group One race in Hong Kong - more than 18 years ago.

The records I have go back thirty years and no Southern Hemisphere-bred three-year-old has ever won a G1 in Hong Kong before the second half of their three-year-old season in that time.

So, whatever expectations fans and connections of Aethero might have, that's quite a sobering piece of evidence and the faithful will need to cling to the "records are made to be broken theory."

The news, of course, is not so grim for Beauty Generation's aspirations but it remains a key moment in his career, too.

When you see him bowling around treating his opposition with contempt in good races, it seems like he will never be beaten but, as a seven-year-old, he will likely come to a fork in the road this season - whether early or late in the campaign is the question.

In his favour is the Hong Kong system and his own racing style.

Top gallopers in Hong Kong have few variations in their programs. There are usually only six or seven races a year for which they are a) eligible and b) suited and they usually run in those.

Other than bypassing suitable events, the only changes to the path come through switching distances or heading overseas. It requires some effort to over use them during a season and, as a result, we often see top gallopers still able to perform at an age when most would be retired - no longer the same force but bobbing up occasionally to surprise their younger foes.

Even take the case of Indigenous, the 1998 Hong Kong Vase winner, who was also second in a Japan Cup and ran with credit at Royal Ascot. He did not win again after his six-year-old season, his brilliance dimmed by age but not lost altogether as he earned millions in minor prizemoney racing until he was ten.

As far as we know, there are no plans to change Beauty Generation's standard path, at least for the first half of the season - Celebration Cup (below, in 2018), Sha Tin Trophy, Jockey Club Mile, Hong Kong Mile, Stewards Cup, Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup.

Wins in all of those would give him a win streak of 15, with 8 G1s. Then we'll see whether he moves offshore to tackle the Dubai Turf or not.

The gelding's style of racing is a positive for longevity too. As a leader, he only spends as much of himself as he needs to win the race and can frequently be conserved in the final stages.

For horses which come from back in the field - big finishers like Able Friend (seen winning the Premier Bowl), Ambitious Dragon or Good Ba Ba, to name a few from Hong Kong's recent past - that isn't always possible as there is some uncertainty about the win until a later stage of the contest. They need to be used and put into top gear in every run to ensure they make up the start they give away, so wear and tear can be more of an issue.

Those are the positives for Beauty Generation's quest to push into his seven-year-old season with the same grip on the scene.

On the downside, of course, is his age.

The G1 honour roll for horses older than six dries right up, with just 23 in total since January 1, 2000, and 17 of them seven-year-olds.

Nature tends to decree that this is the season in a star galloper's career when he ceases to have the same dominance over his rivals, even if he continues to win here and there.

So it's potentially a season of challenge for Hong Kong's champion but, as anyone knows, Beauty Generation still has to find an opponent who puts his hand up as being good enough to topple him - and that horse isn't obvious at this stage.

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