Packing OK is drawn to get all favours
Punters looking for the best last-start performance leading into today's ATV Cup will be left scratching their heads, as a hard to match-up and out-of-form field of milers get a golden opportunity in a HK$1.8 million handicap.
Not only are there no last-start winners engaged, none of the 14 entrants filled a place last time they went to the races and the field has a combined seasonal record of seven wins from 97 starts.
Granted, the 120-95 ratings band and handicap conditions almost guarantee an out-of-sort bunch, albeit a talented one, dropping back in grade after finding the recent cluster of Group races too hot to handle.
Eight of the field come back from mixing it in Group company, and one of them, Packing OK, has a hint of upside and enough going for him to triumph today.
Packing OK has drawn perfectly in three, from where his ability to lay up close behind the pace will be easily utilised by Tye Angland. He has wet ground form and seems one of, if not the only, horse in the contest whose career is on an upward trajectory.
There are only two genuine on-pace runners engaged, one has drawn the outside gate - Penglai Xianzi - and the other - Beauty Flash - looks ready for retirement.
Penglai Xianzi (Matthew Chadwick) should easily get across from barrier 14 and lead unpestered, while Mark du Plessis won't be out to create pressure on Beauty Flash, a four-time Group One winner who seems either too sore or disinterested these days.
Angland will get to camp behind Penglai Xianzi, pull off heels in the straight and win in a similar manner as in the Group Three Centenary Vase (1,800m) in February, a day when the rail was coincidentally in the same 'C+3' position as today.
Since then, he has been outclassed, firstly when eighth to Ambtious Dragon in the Citibank Gold Cup and then when sixth, four lengths behind Thumbs Up in the Premier Plate, when he didn't finish off as well as hoped, but did cop interference late to make his effort look worse than it was.
While Packing OK will be dropping back to 1,600m for the first time this term, he has been freshened up for this and showed sharpness in winning at the course and distance when coming through the grades. A win and a second on good-to-yielding ground from two tries also adds credibility to his case.
Catching Packing OK on the way up means he gets into this quite favourably at the weights, carrying 125 pounds, seven less than stablemate Sunny King (Douglas Whyte), who can probably lay claim to the title of 'best horse in the race'.
While Sunny King has a class edge - he is nine and has drawn barrier 13 - it is hard to imagine him getting home strongly at the finish, especially given the likely slow slog up front.
Well drawn, with a light weight and in the right sort of contest is Let Me Handle It (Weichong Marwing), who it seems Caspar Fownes has set for this with an 11-week let-up and an eye-catching lead-up trial.
From gate six, Marwing should get an ideal two-wide position and, although the horse gets back, he can unwind with a long sprint that could put him in contention in the closing stages. A win on wet ground is a bonus and 117 pounds, even with Marwing likely to claim one pound over, looks a luxury.
Familists (Brett Prebble) is a similar story. He is an honest customer down in the weights and trainer David Hall would have pencilled this in as an ideal target months ago.
He carries the same weight as Let Me Handle It, and trialled on the same day in preparation, looking fresh and well in himself. The progression up to a mile appeals, and two solid fourths over 1,000m and 1,400m coming in is as positive recent form as you will find for any runner in this race.
Packing OK has wet ground form and seems one of, if not the only, horse in the contest whose career is on an upward trajectory
The winning strike rate for Tye Angland, who has ridden 196 times this season at Sha Tin