Sacred Kingdom makes mockery of record
Yiu back in big time with exciting three-year-old
Ricky Yiu Poon-fie welcomed himself back into the big league and started making some ambitious long-range plans after his exciting, unbeaten speed machine Sacred Kingdom minced the Sha Tin 1,000-metres course record yesterday.
Odds-on favourite Sacred Kingdom, having his first start for 70 days, always had the HK$1.6 million Arsenal Handicap under his control and eventually ran out a one-length winner from Friendly Gains, slicing 0.5 seconds off a seven-year-old course record in the process.
Sacred Kingdom made it four wins from four starts and was not knocked around by jockey Danny Nikolic to register the sensational time of 54.6 seconds. The previous course record stood to the credit of the Ivan Allan-trained Tajasur, established in April 2000.
Yiu admitted feeling the pressure for the first time with Sacred Kingdom, a son of the outstanding Coolmore stallion Encosta De Lago.
'This was my first Class One cheque since they took Bullish Luck off me four years ago,' Yiu said. 'I'm just so pleased to have another good horse again.'
Yiu has trained three of the greats of Hong Kong racing - Fairy King Prawn, Electronic Unicorn and Bullish Luck - but suffered the indignity of losing each of them after taking them through to Class One or better.
In the case of Fairy King Prawn - the benchmark horse Yiu uses to compare Sacred Kingdom - he had already won an international Group One (1999 Hong Kong Sprint) when the great Danehill gelding was whisked away by owner Philip Lau Sak-hong to join the Ivan Allan stable.
'This is a very, very exciting horse,' Yiu said. 'From the moment we started working him along, we knew he was way above ordinary.
'Today he looked very special - that course record has stood for years - but the most important thing to me is what it tells me about his future. This horse is just beginning.'
Nikolic, who has been on Sacred Kingdom in each of his four wins, described the three-year-old as giving him 'that bomb feeling'.
'That's how I described his second win, too, though in his third win it was a bit more workmanlike,' he said.
'But after that, Ricky did exactly the right thing with the horse. He gave him a break, and today it was 70 days between races. He's appreciated that, and the freshness helped him be as sharp as he needed to be today.'
Nikolic also reported to Yiu that Sacred Kingdom now wanted further than 1,000m and, ultimately, may develop into a top-class miler.
'His next start will definitely be at 1,200 metres, around the bend,' Yiu said. The most likely race to suit is a Class One handicap at Sha Tin on Chairman's Cup day on May 1.
'I would say he would have just two more runs this season, and then have a break,' Yiu said. 'I will be having a talk to the owner [Sin Kang-yuk] but assuming he comes through those two races as I'd expect, we could start planning to run him in the [Group One] Hong Kong Sprint in December.'
For Yiu, Sacred Kingdom's victory completed a double and took him closer to Paul O'Sullivan as the trainer with the highest strike rate in town.
After starting six horses yesterday without success, O'Sullivan's 39 winners from 270 starters have given him a winning strike rate of 14.4 per cent, while Yiu has now sent out 16 winners from 115 - a rate of 13.9 per cent.
Yiu also scored in the Victoria Racing Club Trophy on the dirt with Rocket Win, who was handled to perfection by Eddie Lai Wai-ming.
'He had two runs on the all-weather some time ago and failed, but people seemed to read too much into those failures,' Yiu said.
'He was caught wide in each of those races and today, from a good barrier, Eddie had no trouble in camping right on the back of the speed. He was always travelling nicely and I knew, with the turf of foot he possesses, he was going to be hard to hold out.'
Fastest by far
The record for the straight course at Sha Tin had stood since 2000
The previous 1,000-metres record of 55.1 seconds was set by Tajasur on March 31, 2000. Yesterday, Sacred Kingdom smashed it and set a new mark of 54.7