Allan's Privilege to prevail
The battle is rejoined at the Lunar New Year meeting at Sha Tin today between old staying rivals Privilege and Deauville.
But there is one important difference in the seventh event which is the feature race on the 10-event card, the Centenary Vase. Deauville, trained and schooled in the elementary stages of his career by Patrick Biancone, left the French trainer in a shock stable move almost two months ago.
Deauville is now with first season trainer Tony Cruz and it will surely be a test of his mettle if he can achieve success against Privilege where the horse and Biancone failed before.
Cruz has demonstrated on numerous occasions already this season that he has every chance of eventually adding the champion trainer's title to the numerous jockeys' championships he won during an illustrious, worldwide career in the saddle.
At least one French connection is maintained with the horse who was bred in France. He will be ridden today by Eric Saint-Martin who was on the horse two starts back when Deauville went under by a neck to Privilege in the Benson Cup.
It was a race the five-year-old had looked like winning - in fact, it looked his best chance to record a significant win against the gutsy, front-running Privilege who has been a superb servant to the Ivan Allan stable and Hong Kong racing.
But it was not to be and the question asked then was, logically, could Deauville beat Privilege given anything other than a totally ridiculous swing in the weights? Well, given that they were at set weights for the Benson Cup, clearly Deauville and his new trainer get their chance again today. For a neck defeat on that occasion Deauville is now 11 pounds better off and that's a lot of weight, particularly over 2,200 metres.
It would be a massive boost for Cruz if Deauville was to oblige at the first time of asking and against his old foe. But it is hard to oppose Privilege who is in great form as, of course, is Deauville.
Trainer Allan has owned and trained some superb horses in his time but he has always been unstinting in his praise of Privilege.
'He is a fighter and that sums him up. I felt he could be beaten before by Deauville, particularly if he went past him quickly. But Privilege is at his best in a fight and he does not know how to quit. He is the sort of horse who would break the hearts of other horses. You could never be sure that you have got his measure because he keeps finding more. He is a champion,' said Allan.
There are 12 runners competing for the Vase and it seems illogical to reduce the field to two - but there is no doubt that Privilege and Deauville do stand out.
Two out of his past three runs have produced a win and a third placing for Mazal who has turned into a top-notch stayer here. He will be partnered again by Mick Kinane and if one of the two main contenders was to weaken then Mazal could be the one to take advantage.
Allan also saddles up Sterling Town and Success Partners who both ran spirited races at Happy Valley just before the break.
The former has an excellent record in Hong Kong and is not easy to rule out of any suitable race. He is certainly in good form, both in races and on the track, but he has never been quite up to the high standard of his illustrious stablemate.
Sky Coast was a last start winner for trainer Stephen S. L. Leung who has been having a good run but the seven-year-old gelding will find this harder. He did give a most solid display last time and if he holds his form - as he seems to be doing - is not without a hope of running third.
That's more than can be said for some clustered at the bottom of the pile as they are racing out of the handicap and against company like this, that makes no appeal at all.
Able Shot seemed to have every chance last time and did not overly excite while Legitimate failed to find much when the question was firmly asked at his last start.
It does seem to be a case of forgetting those at the bottom and, if you want a bet, taking the top two. For me, it's Privilege.