SHA TIN on Sunday is the stage for the HKG1 Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cup, second leg of the Triple Crown, a 2000m test which traditionally brings together the best of Hong Kong’s middle distance horses.

Last year the prestigious event saw the impressive victory of the John Moore-trained 2009 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby winner, Collection. This year, with Collection sidelined through injury, Moore fields three runners and may once again hold the key to the Cup which he has now won for the last three years in succession following Viva Pataca’s triumphs in 2008 and 2009.

Leading his trio will be Irian, whose form has taken a sharp upturn since a gelding operation last year, and whose narrow defeat by the brilliant Snow Fairy in the G1 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup, following his victory in the G2 Cathay Pacific Jockey Club Cup, both over the Gold Cup course and distance, would seem to give him the edge over his rivals. Last time out he was third behind Beauty Flash and Sunny King in the 1600m HKG1 Stewards’ Cup, but that was over a trip probably short of his ideal these days and he will be strongly fancied to atone.

“Leading up to the race he’s done everything right,” says Moore. “He’s run a second to probably the best filly on the planet and that form makes him the one to beat. The pace was unsuitable for him at a mile last time, but he’s worked very well this morning [Friday]. He’s a very fit horse, and I think he just needs some luck in running.”

A serious danger to Irian, however, will be his stablemate Mighty High, a French import who looked to have hit Hong Kong form with a vengeance when winning the HKG3 Jebsen Centenary Vase by a wide margin on 12 February with five of Sunday’s rivals – Sight Winner, Super Satin, Super Pistachio, King Dancer, and Special Days - toiling in his wake.

“Mighty High has now reached peak fitness,” says Moore. “That was a very decisive win the other day and he has to be a solid each way chance, and a possible winner if for any reason Irian encounters traffic.”

It seems strange to think of the great Viva Pataca as third string, but the fact is that Hong Kong’s greatest prize money winner of all time, with well over HK$80 million to his credit, has yet to hit peak form this season, and it may be that at the age of nine, the magnificent veteran is at last beginning to feel his age. It has been often proved that it is unwise to write the old hero off. But Moore feels: “He might be coming to the end of his career now and maybe this is his last season.”

Providing tough competition for the Moore trio will be the Peter Ho-trained Mr Medici, Champion Stayer after his victory in the HKG1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup last season. He was then campaigned in Australia where he performed with credit in both the G1 Caulfield and G1 Melbourne Cups and seemed to be coming back to his best after those exertions when a running-on fifth in the Stewards’ Cup.

Multiple South African champion jockey Piere “Striker” Strydom is looking forward to the ride. “I rode him earlier this week and he worked quite nicely,” says Strydom. “He’s had a couple of runs lately that should have brought him on. Peter’s very happy with him and I think he’s got the ability to win a race like this on his best form.”

Ho has a strong hand in any case as his other runner Packing Winner must have a live chance too after his excellent second in the CX Jockey Club Cup followed by a third in the CXHK Cup. He too may have been inconvenienced by the drop in trip for the Stewards’ Cup.

Both John Size and Tony Cruz are also double handed with Sight Winner and Special Days, and Super Pistachio and California Memory respectively. And a contender who must not be forgotten is King Dancer, first local horse home behind Mastery in the G1 CXHK Vase. In a clear indication of his respect for King Dancer’s chance, Sean Woods has booked Ryan Moore to make the long journey from Dubai for the ride.

“He’s very well in himself,” says Woods “His last race was a bit of a mockery as they went so slow [in the Jebsen Centenary Vase]. But the Gold Cup should suit him better. He’s got two or three lengths to make up on Irian but he’s always beaten Mighty High until he got the farcical pace last time. Certainly booking Ryan is a vote of confidence in his chance.”



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