Gibson targets HKIR treasure
"Frustrating" is how trainer Richard Gibson describes Giant Treasure and that label could also apply to the trainer's season so far, a campaign that has yielded just two winners and sees him sitting incongruously at the bottom of the Hong Kong standings.
Giant Treasure is 'in great nick' going into Sunday's race
A victory in Sunday's HK$23 million Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile would provide a welcome fillip for the man with an enviable record at the year-end showcase.
"Every trainer wants to perform well on International day, no matter where you are in the trainers' table," he said. "A couple of years ago we had a treble on the card, so overall it's always been a good day for the stable."
Doctor Dino set Gibson's Hong Kong ball rolling back in 2007, taking out the Hong Kong Vase at a time when the handler was establishing a global reputation as one of Chantilly's up-and-coming resident Englishmen.
He returned with his oft-travelled star a year later and repeated the feat. Then, in 2013, came the Pan Sutong-owned Akeed Mofeed's Hong Kong Cup triumph, a little more than two years after Gibson had relocated to Sha Tin.
And that undercard treble in 2014 was made up of Dundonnell in the 1400m Class 1 handicap, Got Fly in the 1800m Class 3 and the debutant Giant Treasure in the 1400m Class 3. Giant Treasure returned one year on to split two champions in the 2015 Hong Kong Mile, Japan's Maurice and Hong Kong's highest-rated horse of all-time, Able Friend.
"He's as talented as I've ever trained but he doesn't tick all the boxes on race day, which makes him a frustrating case," Gibson said of the enigmatic grey, who followed that run with a G1 breakthrough in the following month's Stewards' Cup.
Giant Treasure is the latest of the trainer's stable stars to sport Pan's red-spotted yellow silks – the ill-fated and admirable Gold-Fun was three times runner-up (2013 and 2014 Mile; 2015 Sprint) at the HKIR for owner and trainer. And with four seconds in the bag, all told, Gibson's worst result in the four G1 races remains Dundonnell's fine fourth in the 2015 Longines Hong Kong Sprint.
But if Giant Treasure is to enhance the handler's outstanding record at the event, the gelding will have to overcome a five-race losing streak in which he has fared no better than sixth.
"Giant Treasure is one of those horses, he's always got the potential to throw in a good race at this level but everything really has got to click for him on the day and that's why he's a frustrating horse to train," Gibson said.
"I think the most polite way to describe him would be as a 'thinker'. He's certainly got the ability but everything has to go right for him. He doesn't need a micro excuse for things to go wrong. There's no question about it, in terms of ability, he's up to that standard."
A rail-hugging run to second in last year's Mile attests to the Mizzen Mast five-year-old's ability, as much as a win account of three from 17 Hong Kong starts hints at his unreliability.
Last time out, in the G2 Jockey Club Mile at the course and distance, the American-bred British import beat only one of his nine rivals across the finish line. Gibson believes Giant Treasure was unsuited to a pace-tracking run in that contest.
"He wasn't suited by being ridden up on the pace last time so we'll be hoping for a fast pace and sit in behind with some cover," he said. "We're just modifying the gear on him too – he's going to be wearing hood, blinkers and cross noseband on Sunday."
As to the grey's wellbeing going into the mile feature, Gibson is pleased, but then wellbeing does not always equate with performance when it comes to Giant Treasure.
"He always works well in the morning," Gibson said. "We've got him in great nick again going into the race and when the race goes smoothly he's a very talented horse. We put him on the turf yesterday, out of the gates, so it's just a quiet week ahead now."
Giant Treasure clocked 52.6s (27.4, 25.2) for that final fast work over 800 metres, in company with stablemate Joyful Moments. If all falls into place at the weekend, it would be no great surprise to see the mercurial miler's dappled frame ghost into contention through the frenetic final furlong.