sport

Cloud future hinges on Mile

Freddy Head has given fans of Moonlight Cloud some hope Sunday's Longines Hong Kong Mile will not be the brilliant mare's racecourse swansong.

It would appear more likely the six-times Group One winner will be retired to owner George Strawbridge's breeding operation, but the trainer would love to have her for another season.

Moonlight Cloud has landed all four of her starts this year and was particularly dazzling when beating Gordon Lord Byron by three lengths in the Prix de la Foret.

"This could be her last race," said Head, after watching her have a leg-stretch on the Sha Tin all-weather track on Wednesday morning.

"Her future hangs on Sunday's race. As a trainer, I'd love to have her another season but the decision is up to George Strawbridge.

"He's a sportsman but the mare will be six years old soon and, as a breeder, surely he can't wait to take her to stud. You don't want her to race one time too many.

"It is the kind of thing that you cannot really anticipate. One day, they lose it, the will to win. Moonlight Cloud has had an easier career than Goldikova though. She never had to compete with the likes of Zarkava, so who knows?"

One of Moonlight Cloud's very few disappointing performances came in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile, which prompted this change of strategy.

"George Strawbridge decided to send her here rather than another tilt at the Breeders' Cup because he figured she would be better off on this racecourse," said Head.

"The mare has developed year after year since she arrived at my yard but never as much as last winter oddly enough. She has become stronger but wiser too and she's much easier to deal with nowadays."

"Moonlight Cloud was very cautious (today), but she gave me the impression that she's at her best for Sunday's race."

Lining up in opposition is another accomplished filly, the 1000 Guineas winner Sky Lantern, who is looking to help trainer Richard Hannon sign off his time with a licence with a final major victory.

The grey made her first appearance on the track and Hannon's son and assistant, Richard jnr, said: "She was a bit quiet when she arrived at the weekend, but she is fine now and is eating and drinking plenty."