Dirt specialist Temmoku is primed for big showing
The International Races are beckoning and with the turf track receiving some respite ahead of the big day, the eight-race dirt card at Sha Tin this evening is highlighted by the running of the $1 million Tai O Handicap, where Andy Leung Ting-wah's all-weather specialist Temmoku looks the one to beat.
This multiple winner over the dirt mile indicated last time he is back to his best when fourth to Fat Chance. He was checked in the final 100 metres - probably costing him third place - and given that he has dropped a pound in the ratings as a result he does look quite well treated.
Tonight, he should enjoy a charmed run from gate four and with a genuine pace likely to be set by Solar Empire, he looks ideally suited and should prove too good in the concluding stages.
The logical danger has to be By Instinct, who is a five-time winner over the course and distance. He was crowded for room in the race won by Fat Chance last time, but never really loomed as the winner.
Somehow the handicapping department has seen fit to leave him on the same mark in the ratings even though he finished sixth, while Temmoku dropped a pound for running fourth in the same event.
By Instinct did win last term over the course and distance when rated 74, so he should be competitive tonight on a rating just a pound higher.
There is a good deal of uncertainty in this event, with Temmoku and By Instinct the only entrants to have won on the all-weather over a middle distance, though Trust Me and Sparky have won over 1,200 metres on the artificial surface.
Trust Me promotes some interest as he should enjoy a perfect run from gate two. With a light weight, he could be a value chance that's worth including. In addition, he showed a return to form when second to San Lorenzo last time, and that can only be a positive sign.
Sparky leaves the impression he should be suited by the step up in trip following his storming finish for fourth behind Key To Success last time over 1,200 metres on this surface. Against that, he must be taken on trust as he has failed in every attempt over this trip on the turf.
Both Luckswell and Able Marshall have been placed over this course and distance but have hardly left the impression they revel in the conditions.
The former displayed improvement when running on to finish seventh behind Perfetto last start over 2,000 metres and, with the 10-pound claim of apprentice Jacky Tong Chi-kit, he may be able to sneak into the frame again.
Able Marshall tackles stronger opposition but has a light weight and favourable draw, which suggest he is capable of filling a minor placing even though he has not been in the best of form this season.
The real uncertainty arises with six runners in this lineup having their first crack on the specialist surface - Peak Power, Tom's First, Momentum, Diligent, Noble Falcon and Mastery.
Peak Power will need a strong tempo to allow him to produce his powerful finish, but the simple fact is that few horses win on the all-weather with his back-marker style of racing. He does well on turf tracks with some softening of the ground, so this surface may suit him.
Similarly, Tom's First was suited by the track bias last time but is not exactly bred to handle the all-weather and may have to stand the rest too big a start.
Stablemate Momentum is rapidly falling down the ratings, but that is due to some ordinary form and he may need even more relief in the handicap.
Diligent appears ideally drawn in gate one but he has seemed more comfortable racing outside other horses than tight against the fence.
However, his trackwork on the dirt surface has been very positive and on that basis he is one to consider. He should have finished markedly closer last time when interfered with close to home, and has shown enough potential to merit respect.
Both Noble Falcon and Mastery have one thing in common, they have the bloodlines of Bluebird in their pedigree and that's a definite plus on this surface. Bluebird progeny excel on the dirt, and considering Mastery is by the Mr Prospector stallion Woodman out of a Bluebird mare, he does have the breeding prerequisites. He only just failed to win at his latest start and is one to keep safe.
The final event of the evening provides an interesting clash between Fat Chance and Smart Horse, who are both unbeaten over the dirt mile from three starts.
The preference is for the former who has simply been awesome in racking up a winning hat-trick on the all-weather surface.