Topweights a class apart
AN alluring clash between magnificent Carry On Winning and the brilliant Helene Star is easily the highlight of today's entertaining Sha Tin meeting.
The two met on January 16 in the St Andrew's Challenge Quaich over 1,000 metres with the Patrick Biancone-trained Helene Star having a clear-cut one and a half length edge over Carry On Winning. But the margin did not tell the full story as Carry On Winning missed the start slightly and did not get a clear early run.
He was literally thundering home and in another couple of strides would have collared weakening runner-up Nitrogen. The step up to 1,200 metres will suit both horses and it is an intriguing contest: game champion Carry On Winning against rising superstar,Helene Star.
Both horses are clearly being aimed for the International Bowl over 1,400 metres in April and their selection chances would be further enhanced with a solid showing here. Carry On Winning appears to be tackling his optimum trip today as he has really been virtually faultless over the longer Sha Tin sprint. Helene Star, on the other hand, has won over a dazzling variety of distances with his last effort down the straight 1,000 metres arguably one of his very best.
Biancone has got the absolute best out of Helene Star who took time to come to hand but has now adapted quite brilliantly to Hongkong racing. The French ace, now locked in a four-way tie at the top of the championship table, has brought Helene Star back successfully from 1,400 metres through 1,235 metres at Happy Valley to his last win down the straight.
That alone has been an achievement and now he takes Helene Star back up to 1,200 metres while still, of course, having to contend with the handicapper. He will today carry a staggering 141lb which puts him in with the top quartet of gallopers in Hongkong and this will be a very serious test.
Carry On Winning, meanwhile, will again cart around 144lb which leaves one wondering just how long he can possibly lump weight like this without losing his zest for the game. But it was undoubtedly there last time as his blazing finish underlined and it would be a brave man who would deny him a top winning chance here.
The two market leaders have drawn next to each other in barriers one and two so the drama could begin early as rivals Tony Cruz and Gerald Mosse vie for ideal positions. Frankly, the manner in which Carry On Winning races suggests that the number two barrier is not necessarily a major help. The English six-year-old has invariably come from well of the pace - several times from last position - to storm through and win. As we are racing on the narrower D Course today, he will have to possibly weave his way through the field or come down the outside.
He has never mustered the pace to go with an early leader over this trip. Helene Star, however, is admirably adaptable as his recent record shows. He has the pace to be right up there or could come from slightly further back over a longer trip. Given the excellent current form of the Biancone stable it is hard to go against Helene Star but Carry On Winning is such an incredible competitor that he is opposed at obvious risk.
The handicaps tend to tell the story of this race with only the Biancone second string, Mastermind, rated anywhere near the top two. Mastermind has an official rating of 106 against 118 for Carry On Winning and 115 for Helene Star. But the official view of Mastermind is clouded these days by problems that have surfaced with the horse. He has rarely looked the part in morning work and his two runs this season have been nothing more than moderate.
Red Ruffian is rated 19 points under Helene Star but may be the only other claimant - modest as he may be - in the 11-runner event. Red Ruffian is also striking what appears on exposed form to be his best trip and he is ready to give an account of himself. He won handily, course and distance, back in early November but this is a much tougher assignment. Red Ruffian was not tackling anything in the class of Helene Star and Carry On Winning so he would have to be taken very much on trust here.
Aristocrat and Star Of Lihlin both finished adrift of Helene Star down the straight course last time and have no realistic chance of reversing the form while Tiger's Spirit has made a niche for himself with his excellent efforts down the 1,000 metres rather than going round corners. On his absolute best form the one horse possibly capable of troubling the top two would be Mark's Pride but the galloper is unsound. That has stood against him in preparations for his races but he is in the field today and has done some useful lead-up work.
But it is difficult not to envisage Carry On Winning coming flashing home in a bid to gather in Helene Star. Whether he is successful or not will be answered at around 4.02 pm today.