Local guns loaded for International battle
The locals appear to have their best chance of International glory and yesterday's important Sha Tin trackwork session only served to underline their claims.
Smashing Pumpkin and Johan Cruyff carry Hong Kong's hopes into the showpiece 1,800-metre International Cup, while Special flies the the SAR flag in the 1,400-metre Bowl.
'Pumpkin' is never a flashy worker but boy did he look ready to do his job with an attractive hit-out on the grass alongside his stablemate Top Light. Big race rider Basil Marcus, the multiple champion jockey who is desperately keen for International success, never let Pumpkin off the bit as he cruised two lengths clear of Top Light in the 200-metre run past the winning post and up towards the trainers' stand.
Record-breaking Australian handler David Hayes is convinced Smashing Pumpkin would measure up to Group One company Down Under. Sunday will be his big test. Yesterday's gallop showed he is ready.
Johan Cruyff featured prominently in the morning's most testing gallop as he and stablemate's Masterkova and Forest Spring blitzed their way around the Sha Tin grass.
Johan Cruyff, the Irish Derby fourth and an emphatic winner of his International Cup lead-up race, the St Andrew's Challenge Quaich, finished his work off most strongly as he and Forest Spring picked off Masterkova in the final 200 metres.
Sunday's 1,800-metre Cup event is probably too short for the Patrick Biancone-trained three-year-old to run to his full potential but he appears to be improving from run to run and gallop to gallop, and exudes quality.
By the way, Forest Spring is well worth following despite his rapid rise through the local ratings and also impressed in yesterday's searching gallop.
Special has been bubbling for his Bowl goal for at least the last fortnight. He wasn't asked for much yesterday morning but moved sweetly and looks spot on.
The European challenge looks strongest in the 2,400-metre International Vase and yesterday defending champion Luso was nothing short of brilliant under Japan Cup hero Mick Kinane.
Globe-trotting trainer Clive Brittain is a master at travelling his horses and he has Luso looking a million dollars. But don't underestimate the Germans. Their pair in the Vase Oxalagu and Protektor both looked well yesterday especially Oxalagu who should run a bold race on Sunday.
Europe's Wizard King also looked very well in himeslf in readiness for the Bowl as he moved fluently under Wendyll Woods on the main dirt track.
Wixim, one of the two English runners in the Cup, is not an impressive individual to look at but he did show plenty of zip on the dirt, even to the extent of moving a little too freely. The other English runner in the Cup Bijou D'Inde looks understandably wintery but is a fine stamp of a horse. His problem will be getting the soft lead on which he thrives.
Australia's Seascay looks really well for the Cup, while the New Zealand challenger in the Vase, the tough-as-teak Sapio, looked big and bonny.
In other local work Geoff Lane's River Dance handed a solid beating to the normally useful worker Skystone and should go really well on the weekend's supporting Sha Tin card.
There was also a very good hit-out late on by the Ivan Allan-trained pair of Billion Win and Cream. The latter appears to have progressed both mentally and physically for his creditable third to Golden Duke and should be hard to beat when next seen out.
Others to impress included Eddie Lo's Lake Titicaca, Derek Cruz's Dream Team, who is crying out for the maximum 2,400-metre trip, and John Moore's Excel Kid.
It has been a quiet season to date for trainer Bruce Hutchison but his Irish import The Best Winner produced another quality effort yesterday, trouncing stablemate Aspiration.