SUNDAY'S inaugural G2 Cathay Pacific Jockey Club Sprint and G2 Cathay Pacific Jockey Club Mile provide a fitting overture to the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races on 12 December.

The races formerly known popularly as “the Trials” still perform that implied function. But their newly elevated status now establishes them as major contests in their own right, and the quality of the fields assembled for both races guarantees that they will be thrilling as well as informative.

Leading the way in the Sprint is the perennial world’s top rated turf sprinter and reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year Sacred Kingdom who, although he has only raced three times since because of the interruption caused by his now well known operation for a twisted bowel, remains undefeated since his second CXHK Sprint victory in December 2009.

The champion, like his old rival Rocket Man whom he defeated in the 2009 G1 KrisFlyer International Sprint, has to concede five pounds to all other members of the 12-strong field except the filly Sweet Sanette whose sex entitles her to an extra four-pound advantage.

But such was the authority of his comeback in the HKG3 Sha Tin Sprint Trophy that few will be looking much past him as they try to find Sunday’s likely winner.

“We’ve just kept him ticking over since that win,” says trainer Ricky Yiu. “He’s drawn gate six. I’m really happy with the barrier, and I’m expecting another very good run.”

Asked if there was any horse he was worried about, Yiu had no hesitation in replying “Lucky Nine”.

But the Caspar Fownes-trained rising star, winner last time of the HKG3 National Day Cup, will have the outside gate to cope with as well as the world’s best sprinter.

“He’s got gate 12 so the options are limited,” admits Fownes, “and it’s going to be a big test for us dropping back in distance against the big boys, but I just want to see him run a big race.”

Other intriguing runners in the glittering field include Cerise Cherry who looks sure to make a bold bid from the inside draw, and the unbeaten Little Bridge whose trainer Danny Shum declares “He’s in very good form. It’s definitely a big step up for him, but he’s very well and I hope he can take that step.”

Another is the John Moore-trained Let Me Fight who, when coming back from a four-month break, ran Little Bridge to a short head two weeks ago.

“He’s a horse with huge potential,” says trainer John Moore of Let Me Fight, “and his run the other day when narrowly beaten by Little Bridge while he was well in need of the run just shows his class.

"With maturity we believe this fellow will develop into one of the best sprinter/milers in Hong Kong. But,” Moore adds realistically, “What’s going to beat Sacred Kingdom on Sunday?”

An unknown quantity perhaps, of which Let Me Fight is certainly one. But the only horse in the field who has already established himself in the Sacred Kingdom class is the Singaporean champion Rocket Man, who went down to him by just a neck in the 2009 KrisFlyer International Sprint and now renews rivalry on the same terms.

Happily Rocket Man’s supposed weight loss has turned out to be nothing more than that as the scales reveal the Singapore champion is in reality close to his optimum racing weight at 1,041 lbs (473 kg).

“I’m very happy with the way he’s going,” says trainer Patrick Shaw about the horse who worked on the all weather under Felix Coetzee, completing the last 400m in 22.7.

“The eight draw isn’t perfect. I’d have preferred him to be further in so that he’d have more horses to help him get round the right hand bend. But I’m going to leave that and the tactics entirely to Felix who knows Sha Tin better than I do.

"In Dubai, he proved that he doesn’t have to lead, and the few times in Singapore when horses have taken him on he’s seemed happy to settle, although of course that wasn’t against horses of this calibre. But it’s all going to be up to Felix. I’d like him to finish in the first three obviously, but 12 December is the main aim.”

Scarcely less fascinating than the Sprint is the G2 Cathay Pacific Jockey Club Mile, whose running sees the return bout between Hong Kong Champion Miler Able One and Thumbs Up, who caught him in the closing stages of the HKG3 Mission Hills Sha Tin Trophy when receiving seven pounds.

Able One is two pounds better off this time and must have a fair chance of reversing that three-quarter length verdict. “He was gallant in defeat last time,” says his trainer John Moore, “and he’ll be going into this race pretty close to peaking.

"His work on grass on Thursday was exceptional and he couldn’t have blown out a match afterwards. Because of his many setbacks he hasn’t got very many miles on the clock, and I can tell the racing public he hasn’t lost any of his prowess through age.”

Moore also runs the great Viva Pataca in the same race. “It was unfortunate,” he says of Hong Kong’s all time leading money winner, “that he had to miss his prep because of a capped elbow.

"He’s now having to run at a mile as a lead up to the 2400m  (the G1 CXHK Vase) on 12 December, but his work coming into this has actually been very, very good and I’m sure this old fellow still has plenty of juice and at least one more G1 or HKG1 left in him.

"Neil Callan rides, which isn’t a bad first ride for him in Hong Kong. Neil’s a worker. I met him at Goodwood this year, and I hope he has a nice start.”

Moore also runs the ever reliable Sunny King and, the mount of Brett Prebble, Silver Grecian, who he believes could be the dark horse in this field.

“I’m quite keen to get him into the Mile on 12 December and only by running very well in this can he do it. He’s taken longer than we thought to get fit, but Prebble is on a wave at the moment and we’re hoping he can get the best out of him.”

Caspar Fownes remains undecided at the moment whether Thumbs Up should target the CXHK Mile or the CXHK Cup on 12 December: “We’ll make the decision on Monday,” says the leading trainer.

And it would be impolite as well as perhaps unwise to ignore triple CXHK Mile winner Good Ba Ba. Michael Chang remains optimistic about the old champ.

“I think he’s OK” says Chang. “He’s healthy. He’s fresh, and he’s had a good prep. He’s just getting a bit old. But I think he’ll still run a good race, and if he finishes within two lengths of them on Sunday I think he’ll have a real chance of a fourth Hong Kong Mile, because he’s still got 10 per cent improvement in him.”

The Cathay Pacific Jockey Club Mile is a race with any number of possible scenarios and plenty of implications for the future.

But as Zac Purton, rider of the Paul O’Sullivan-trained Fellowship, winner last season of the HKG1 Stewards’ Cup and a close fourth in the Mission Hills Sha Tin Trophy, points out: “There’s only a half length between several of them. It’s going to be who get’s the right run that’s all.”



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