Griffins expose weakness in depth
Saturday's meeting at Sha Tin was definitely one to keep close tabs on, with quality performances throughout the afternoon.
The nine-race card kicked off with an exciting griffin performance in the 1,400 metre Arctic Ocean Plate won by Lord Of Warriors.
The official margin of victory was just half-a-length, but the Tony Cruz-trained youngster scored in little more than a canter over newcomer Good Spirit and, under 135 pounds, his bare winning time of one minute and 22.9 seconds equates to a relatively smart Topspeed rating of 69.
That level of speed figure already ranks as the best time performance seen in a griffin contest this season and from the manner of victory it is clear that neither the winning distance nor the time does Lord Of Warriors true justice.
Good Spirit recorded a highly encouraging first-up effort of 51 to run second and is one that should pay his way in the near future, while Jade Dynasty (54) improved on his debut rating of 39 and will also be winning soon.
For the record, Lord Of Warriors shares top spot for time performances achieved in griffin races with Serve And Volley, who, after two wins in griffin races, has subsequently disappointed in Class Two competition, finishing last of nine to Grandstand at the weekend.
Again, the ease of Lord Of Warriors' victory suggests he will prove more than capable making the transition when the time comes, but before we get carried away on a wave of excitement, it is also worth seeing how this season's crop of griffins compare with last season's at this stage of the campaign.
As promising as the weekend's griffin race was, the overall picture is less rosy.
Last season at this stage, Born To Win stood alone with a rating of 83. If we take him out of the frame, Lord Of Warriors compares well with the next best of 68 (Bumper Star) but the figures as a whole point to less strength in depth of those animals seen out in griffin races this season.
So far this campaign, there have been only 28 time performances in griffin races rated above 40, compared to 43 last time round. Indeed, we have had just nine achieving a figure of 50 or above so far this season, while there were 21 performances at this stage a year ago.
With Lord Of Warriors also third best with his debut win (59) and Songs of Victory another appearing twice in the top nine performances, only seven individual horses have clocked figures of 50 or more this campaign. Last season, there were 15.
There are undoubtedly more class animals still under wraps, but as things stand, the quality and strength in depth of the griffins seen out this season is down on last term.
The Centenary Cup took centre stage and as a spectacle it didn't disappoint - Fastest Star just touching off Oriental Express and Indigenous to land his second victory in the sprint Triple Crown - but on good to firm going the winning time of 57.1 seconds equates to a Topspeed rating of 74, which is clearly no more than adequate for the class of competition.
Still, with a time rating of 92 already to his name this season, we know Fastest Star is capable of better figures.
Although the Ivan Allan-trained duo of Oriental Express (72) and Indigenous (70) are also capable of recording superior figures (97 and 95 respectively), that they pushed the winner so close over an inadequate trip is ample testament to their quality and the training excellence of their master handler.
A showdown between this pair and Johan Cruyff remains something to savour.