Kingdom's win 'not as impressive'
With comparisons being made with Fairy King Prawn and even Silent Witness, the weight of expectation was almost too much for Sacred Kingdom, who kept his unbeaten status intact but looked significantly more mortal in his third win.
The son of leading Australian sire Encosta de Lago was a raging $13 favourite to win the Hong Kong University Alumni Association Challenge Cup and did so with a length to spare. But the effortless arrogance of his previous two wins was missing.
Trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fie pointed to the sharp weight increase of 14 pounds, adding that Sacred Kingdom is still only a three-year-old racing against the older horses and with no weight concession.
But Yiu also admitted the boom youngster was showing signs that he was, perhaps, over the top, looking significantly more agitated than previously and sweating up behind the barriers.
'He's done a very good job, and it's hard to argue against a horse that's still unbeaten and has done what he's done,' Yiu said.
'But he was not as impressive today as he was at his last start.
'I think I should back off him a bit now, and give him a nice break between races. There is no hurry. He's done a very good job and with such a nice horse, it's important we look after him properly.'
Winning jockey Danny Nikolic, who has been on board Sacred Kingdom in all three wins, said he knew even before the gates opened that the brilliant youngster was not at the same pitch as his effortless last-start stroll on December 26.
'He was quite agitated behind the barriers, which he had not been at his previous starts, so he may just be coming to the end of it for the time being,' Nikolic said.
'In the straight, when I asked him to go up and join the leader [Choice And Chance] it wasn't the same response as I received last time. I had to give him a couple of hits with the stick in the final 200 metres, which I didn't want to do, but I had to make sure he won.'
After Sacred Kingdom won at Sha Tin on December 26, Yiu said he rated the youngster as the equal of the great Fairy King Prawn at the same stage of their careers.
Fairy King Prawn won a Hong Kong Sprint and was second to New Zealand's champion mare Sunline in the 2000 Hong Kong Mile.
The Danehill gelding also became the first Hong Kong horse to win a Group One on foreign soil when he landed the 2000 Yasuda Kinen under the guidance of Robbie Fradd.