This time, Masquerader can deliver on the dirt
Masquerader has sucked punters in with his slick dirt trial displays before, but it seems the former top-class juvenile is ready to live up to his promise - at least on the all-weather track.
The Tony Millard-trained four-year-old produced another smooth trial win on Sha Tin's inner circuit on Friday and looks set for start in two weeks over the same course.
Raced by owner Leung Kai-fai in Australia, Masquerader won the Group Two Todman Stakes at his second start and would have started close to favourite in the Golden Slipper if not withdrawn through injury. The horse hasn't won since, and was targeted at the big three-year-old races. He was stretched to the 2,400m of the AJC Derby and his best effort was a third in the stallion-making Caulfield Guineas.
Leung had Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby dreams for the son of his former star Lucky Owners, but Masquerader was a disappointing 10th first up before finishing last on his big day.
In the lead-up to his first-up run, Masquerader produced two dirt trial wins in smart time, but he didn't get close to transferring that form to the turf. A last-start third - with blinkers on for the first time locally - on the all-weather have shown that he has a liking to the forgiving ground and fast racing style.
The blinkers were removed this time, where Willie Pike let Masquerader work away under his own steam and didn't have to ask for much exertion late.
Expect the shades to go back on in a Class Two (100-80) handicap at Sha Tin on July 8, where Millard will have his charge dialled-up for a final run of the season.
Finishing second in the 1,200m heat, the fastest of the three held that morning, was Tony Cruz iron horse Best Eleven, who is on the brink of equalling the record for most wins in a season.
Best Eleven has six wins this term, his first, one short of the mark shared by Ambitious Dragon (2010-11) and Entrapment (2009-10), and a decent trial under regular rider Matthew Chadwick dispelled any concerns the son of Charge Forward had gone over the top.
The only opportunity for Cruz to give his horse a shot at the record, short of stretching the sprinter to a mile for the first time, is a 1,200m Class One (110-90) at Happy Valley on July 4.
If Best Eleven can notch his seventh win at his 13th start, he could move past Glorious Days and win the award for Most Improved Horse, having already more than doubled his rating from 52 to 105.
Me Tsui Yu-sak's Namjong Blossoms showed some nice toe to lead and looks to have recovered well from a severe quarter crack that slowed the three-year-old's progress after two starts.
Namjong Blossoms (Mo Hin-tung), who hasn't raced since his second start in February, seemed to strip fitter from his first trial two weeks ago as he strode out in front before tiring for third.