Sean Woods will be hoping his much-improved galloper Healthy Wealthy can demolish his rivals once again at Happy Valley tonight and propel his rating high enough to gain a ticket to the $14 million Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby.
The manner in which the son of Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Gr 1, 1,600 metres) winner Desert Prince quickened up over the concluding stages of the 1,800 metres contest on February 11 was the sign of a progressive, classy individual. He has gone from strength to strength this season, having won all three starts at the city venue. Stable jockey Wendyll Woods will need an ounce of luck in running from gate nine, but based on his latest victory he could afford to cover a little extra ground on the way and still prevail.
The main danger comes from the John Size-Shane Dye combination and Fortune Smiles. He too won his only start over the course and distance earlier this year in emphatic style, before failing over 1,400 metres on a yielding surface on February 7. The Irish-bred gelding is expected to bounce back to form this evening, aided more by the longer journey than the switch in venue.
A key with respect to a few runners in this line-up was the event won by Wealthy Treasure on February 4. Ever Success (third), Dashing Champion (fourth), Surveyor (fifth) and Silent Partner (eighth) all clashed over the Valley mile that evening on a yielding surface. Ever Success failed dismally on his next appearance over 2,200 metres and while he will no doubt prove more effective over 1,800 metres, his trackwork since his last outing has not been quite as impressive and there are concerns how much that testing run has taken out of him.
Happy Valley Million Challenge winner Dashing Champion is always difficult to discard on his favoured course. However, the early season challenge has left him on an elevated mark in the ratings and he is a slight risk at the journey.
There were positive signs for Surveyor in his effort behind Wealthy Treasure. He has fallen from a rating of 103 to 85 since first competing on New Year's Day, 2003 though the step up in trip certainly looks beneficial, to some extent he must be taken on trust because his overall performances have not been encouraging.
The ageing Silent Partner has been racing well this term but the multiple winner over the course and distance may have reached his limit in the ratings for now and would be doing well to place.
One of the genuine Valley specialists in this field is Packing Angel, who is going to relish the move back to the city course.
He finished third on all four starts over the Valley mile this season, before a slightly disappointing eighth behind Beethoven at Sha Tin on January 4. Surprisingly, this is his first attempt at 1,800 metres but the son of Zabeel should prove every bit as effective over the journey and must be kept safe with Douglas Whyte on board.
Either or both of Celebration and Nasa Pearl could make the running in this event and should not have too much trouble obtaining forward positions from gates one and two respectively. Derek Cruz has opted to remove the visor from Celebration and replace it with a shadow roll, but the gear change does not hold major significance. He should enjoy a good run through the race and deserves respect.
Nasa Pearl tackles stronger opposition but looks dangerously weighted with 115 pounds. Felix Coetzee is a master tactician when allowed to dictate the pace and, for that reason alone, Nasa Pearl must be kept safe.
Danny Shum Chap-shing's Ka Ka Win did not show any noticeable improvement in his dirt trial last week and looks difficult to recommend on his overall form.
It is still early days for Caspar Fownes-trained Military Option, who was never in contention on his debut when 10th to Wyndam Easy over 1,400 metres on February 22. He is poorly drawn and may need more time to settle into his new environment.
The dark horse of the field is Always Win, who has been plagued with problems throughout his career, hindering his progress through the ranks. He ran well in defeat when second to Perfect Partner, who subsequently ran a cracking race when third to Tiber in the Classic Mile.
However, this is the first time Always Win has ventured to the city circuit and how he will handle the tight track is difficult to assess.