Best Gift still needs to prove his Derby worth
It may be just over six weeks away, but the picture being painted for the Hong Kong Derby was only marginally clearer after the success of a couple of Derby contenders on Sunday.
The Ireland Trophy (race 343) was won by Best Gift on the bob-of-the-heads when defeating fellow Derby contender Green Treasure by a nose over 2,000 metres.
Victory for the runner-up would have almost guaranteed him a slot in the line-up on March 13, the three point penalty elevating him to 96, and, at this stage, puts him right on the cusp.
Currently there are 12 horses rated 100 or higher and the highest being Scintillation on a mark of 121.
There are so many horses entered for the Derby that are destined to rise higher than their current mark, and no doubt in the coming weeks the short list for the prestigious race will alter on a weekly basis.
It is a thankless job for the handicapper and his team to pick the final 14, and there will no doubt be several connections who feel aggrieved.
And that may be the case for Best Gift, who basically will have to win again to gain entry, which is remarkable given he does look an exciting prospect.
He was caught wide for the entire 2,000 metres journey when defeating Green Treasure, and yet still fought on doggedly to win.
It would appear he has been leniently handled with a five-point penalty, elevating him to a rating of 90.
Green Treasure had the run of the race and lost no admirers in defeat.
There was plenty of merit in the victory of Leilati when capturing the Ewo Challenge Trophy (race 344) over the Sha Tin mile.
He is looking for further, but the seven point penalty for his success leaves him on a mark of 86.
He may have too much to do to gain entry to the Derby in the short space of time, but there is no doubt he has the ability to prove competitive.
A lot of credit must go to trainer Almond Lee after Solar showed improved efforts to score a convincing win (race 340).
Pionero (second), Lucky Guys (third) and Acceleration (fourth) all ran well in defeat and each look more than capable of winning in the short term.
Happy Kid (sixth) was not extended until the concluding stages and deserves another chance.
The awesome performance of Silent Witness when clocking 55.3 seconds down the straight 1,000 metres confirmed his status as the world's leading turf sprinter.
And runner-up Country Music was gallant in defeat, suggesting he may well be the second best straight course horse locally.
There was plenty to like about the run of Purple Gold, who displayed drastic improvement to finish third to Couldn't Care Less over the Valley mile (race 330) last Wednesday. It was clearly his best run to date and he may have fallen to a competitive mark now.
The second run of Rewarding King was worth a mention, even though he finished five lengths from eventual winner Billet Express in the Happy Valley Trophy (race 334). He is progressing nicely and is worth keeping safe next time.
The amount of ground Strawberry Kisses made up after turning for home and then finishing fourth to Grand Commands over 1,000 metres (race 329) was considerable. It was a sterling effort and he should relish a step up to 1,200 metres.
ONES TO NOTE:
Acceleration, Purple Gold,