Size's consistent star can be the Gem of Sha Tin
Champion Australian trainer John Size holds all the aces in the $2 million Tung Chung Handicap at Sha Tin this afternoon where his three entries, Dr More, Gem Of India and Liberal's Choice, each has strong claims to add to his tally. The best chance from Size's trio is consistent Gem Of India, who has missed the frame just once from 12 local starts.
Admittedly, the only time he failed to figure in the finish was over the 1,600 metres at Sha Tin, but that was on his final outing last term when he was past his prime. He has returned in excellent form this season, most recently with a game second to Figures on February 22 over 1,400 metres. Although only eight starters line up today, the race should be run at a reasonably genuine speed and he does look an excellent each-way chance again.
Dr More (rated 116) is the highest-rated runner in the field and, with Douglas Whyte on board, is bound to have his admirers in the betting. The drop back to a mile is beneficial and he certainly strikes an easier field.
The concern must be that his recent form has not been up to his usual standard but he is a quality galloper and deserves plenty of respect.
Liberal's Choice is ultimately headed for the 2004 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby in two weeks' time but on his better form this season he would definitely rate a chance in this event. His defeat of Lucky Owners in a ding-dong battle earlier this season was a memorable victory and especially relevant today because it was achieved over this course and distance. And while he would no doubt prefer further, he must be rated a good chance to figure in the finish.
Also headed for the Derby is classy Irish import Roosevelt, who returns to the track following an outstanding effort when fourth behind grand French filly Vallee Enchantee in the Hong Kong Vase back in December. Obviously Roosevelt has the quality to win such an event but he has encountered problems since arriving and David Oughton has said the gelding pulled up 'a bit jointy' after the Vase.
The limited amount of fast work Roosevelt has done leading up to this event means his fitness can only improve, but he may just lack the edge that several rivals have in terms of the condition required to win this race.
Rookie trainer Caspar Fownes has stable stalwart The Duke tackling the mile once again, following a fair performance last month when fifth to Tiber in the Classic Mile. That was the third time The Duke had failed to hit the frame over the course and distance and there seems little doubt the mile stretches his stamina.
Interestingly, he was ridden very quietly and conservatively in a recent 1,600 metres turf trial and that's how Torsten Mundry may be asked to ride him here. Even so, he will be doing well to hit the frame.
Ivan Allan's yard has hit form recently following a barren spell over the festive season, and he is double-handed in this event with Visorhill and Golconda. The former finished fourth to Gem Of India over 1,400 metres on February 7, which was a sound effort given that it was his first run in five months. The lightly framed Danehill gelding will be fitter this time round and the move up to a mile looks beneficial.
It is a little harder to make a case for Golconda, who has not been in the best of form recently. The key to his chances depends on whether he is pressured in the lead, so tactical plans for The Duke will be particularly relevant to his prospects.
Tony Cruz has a couple of chances to even the score with Size, in particular with rising star Country Music in the eighth event. The talented galloper has won three of four starts in his first season, most recently on January 18 down the straight course where he recorded a soft length-and-half victory.
The main quinella pick is 1,000 metres specialist Four Aces, who has been beaten only once down the straight. It may be wise to keep debutant Always Flying on the safe side because he has impressed in his work and trials. Cruz and Size go head-to-head in the sixth event where Zero In and Ahead A Head look to have the race between them.
The former broke through for a deserved win over 1,400 metres in mid-February, when leading all the way and clocking 1:22.9 in the process. Ahead A Head was allowed to dictate the other division of the same race that day, clocking 0.2 seconds slower in overall time but registering the same split for the final quarter (23.3), so there is clearly little separating them today.