Robbie Fradd, who carries local hopes in today's Hong Kong Mile - the most eagerly awaited race of the season

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 December, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 December, 2001, 12:00am

Listening to trainers and jockeys in the buildup to today's $54 million International Races, you would think there are 56 fit, happy horses running in the Sha Tin showpiece. But it will break down to just four delighted sets of owners when the dust of battle settles and to just one result that will satisfy Hong Kong - to win the richest turf mile on the planet.

Hong Kong is hungry. Hong Kong is starving. And Hong Kong badly wants to see Electronic Unicorn avenge the defeat of Fairy King Prawn by Sunline in last year's Mile.

The knife of defeat cut deep 12 months ago and the finding that Sunline's rider Greg Childs had discussed his tactics with Australian rider Justin Sheehan, and was required to pay a $300,000 fine for it, twisted the blade for Hong Kong racing fans.

They say revenge is a dish best eaten cold and it was waiting for Fairy King Prawn most of this year, seeming within his reach when he exploded back into form this season. But a month or two is a cruel eternity in racing, and the established Hong Kong champion will be home nursing a leg when the $14 million Mile is run.

First-season trainer John Size has been a flash of brilliance in just three months at Sha Tin. He gambled on leaving a booming business behind in Australia and the payoff has come. The jackpot is today. Laconic, workaholic Size came here with a reputation for rekindling old warriors and has lived up to it, tripling stable numbers in a couple of months since he fired up the dragon in Electronic Unicorn.

The National Panasonic Cup win was the kind that makes hairs stand up on a racing fan's neck. The Chevalier Cup win, the stamp of confirmation. The King Prawn was down but a substitute had emerged. The more Size has tried to point out that the visitors are not exactly a pushover, the bigger the expectation has become and he has been forced to slap a virtual media ban on the horse in recent days.

Electronic Unicorn will carry so much more than 126 pounds when he steps out today - the weight of expectation, the weight of money and the will of a brilliant rider out to salve a wound.

'John's done his job, so it's up to me now, and Electronic Unicorn,' jockey Robbie Fradd said yesterday. 'The horse is fit but reasonably fresh still because this is just his third start and that is normally a horse's best run. Some of the others have had more racing and it does take its toll. That could work in his favour.'

Fradd is no stranger to the pressures of today. As Fairy King Prawn's regular rider, he knew the pleasures of winning for the Hong Kong crowds and the despair of an inch that separates success and failure in an unforgiving town. 'I remember last year's Mile as if it was yesterday,' Fradd told the Post this week. 'I still say if Sunline hadn't got that soft lead, I would have beaten her. I wouldn't say Electronic Unicorn is better, because Fairy King Prawn is one of the best milers in the world, but he's definitely on a par with him.'

The devils are all around Electronic Unicorn. The Japanese horses which have broken 92 seconds for a mile at Kyoto, Zenno El Cid and Eishin Preston. The horse that didn't win the Breeders' Cup - but ran a hell of a second at Belmont Park and has been a flashing light on the training tracks, Forbidden Apple. There's the German filly, Proudwings. Sir Michael Stoute's Tough Speed. The Australians, Show A Heart and Shogun Lodge, who seems so much like the Unicorn's Down Under cousin. There are others.

The devils are all around and today we'll see what the Unicorn can do.

Until a fortnight ago, King Of Danes appeared the other realistic chance for a hometown victory as trainer Tony Cruz had him on target for the Hong Kong Sprint, in which he was third as an early three-year-old last year.

Twelve months on, the event is still anchored around that race and the quinella of Falvelon and Morluc, but the Hong Kong chances rest on whether King Of Danes is over the minor setback he has had - and on which trainer catches your ear.

Cruz says King Of Danes has been set for this race alone and that he will be fit enough to win it. The speed horse made a one-act affair of the Centenary Sprint when able to dominate in front and there is a chance today he could get loose in the lead down the inside rail. David Hayes, on the other hand, has a fully fit horse in All Thrills Too, but the question mark still sits over whether the young sprinter is good enough to make the steep climb that lies ahead of him today.

His jockey Shane Dye is a believer that the times All Thrills Too consistently runs down the straight 1,000 metres at Sha Tin mean more than any consideration of being out of the race at the weights. 'His last three starts there he has run under 57 seconds and I think he's the kind of horse you can rely on to go out and run a good time again,' Dye said this week.

'I know there are horses in the race with faster times at other tracks, like the Japanese horse which broke 54 seconds, but they can't run much faster at Sha Tin on Sunday than the times that All Thrills Too is doing. Falvelon won the race in 56.7 seconds last year.'