Champion still not at his peak: Hall
If a comprehensive defeat at the hands of Sacred Kingdom yesterday dented David Hall's hopes for a repeat win in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint, the Australian never let on.
Hall, who won last year's HK$12 million feature with Absolute Champion in devastating fashion, had just watched his gelding run a meritorious second to Sacred Kingdom in the International Sprint Trial, beaten 23/4 lengths in the fastest 1,200 metres ever run at Sha Tin.
However, as a Group One winner, Absolute Champion was forced to concede Sacred Kingdom five pounds on this occasion and you get a very real sense that Hall does not have his charge completely screwed down yet.
'We didn't get a true guide today because Medic Power wasn't right,' Hall began. 'But my horse beat the rest by 23/4 lengths and I'm pretty happy where he's at.
'Okay, today the winner was truly awesome and we've got to improve to beat him. But I do think there is a little more improvement there in terms of fitness, plus the five pounds and we'll then have to see if that's enough.'
The next issue will be the riding engagement for Absolute Champion, as his usual jockey Brett Prebble yesterday elected to handle Medic Power, who finished a lacklustre eighth of 10 runners and was later diagnosed as having a heart irregularity.
Eric Saint-Martin filled in for Hall on Absolute Champion, but following Medic Power's failure, Prebble will become available for the December 9 showpiece.
Jockey Club executive director of racing Bill Nader said Sacred Kingdom's victory was 'the most explosive win I've ever seen from a turf sprinter'.
'He was truly awesome, and I have no doubt that on that he'll start favourite ahead of Miss Andretti in the Sprint,' Nader added.
Senior handicapper Nigel Gray also described Sacred Kingdom as 'truly awesome' and said the win would probably see him join Absolute Champion as the top-rated sprinter.
Paul O'Sullivan was stoic in the wake of Medic Power's shock failure, knowing it's the end of the Hong Kong Sprint dream for the New Zealand-bred four-year-old.
'The vets at the Jockey Club are real guns and if there's a reason for this problem, believe me they'll find it,' O'Sullivan said.
'But for now, the dream is over. A nice young horse like him, I wouldn't think of running him again, so soon, after running so badly and having the heart problem diagnosed.
'But Vengeance Of Rain has showed that a heart irregularity is not terminal, that they can come back from something like that, so we just have to do the right thing by the horse and look after him.'
When asked about the level of disappointment he was feeling, O'Sullivan quickly put the thing in perspective. 'When I go home tonight there will be people dying in natural disasters in Bangladesh, or killed in bomb attacks in the Middle East. Compared to what other people will be going through in other parts of the world, this is nothing - it's just a horse race. The sun will rise tomorrow.'
John Moore was encouraged at the improved effort from his comeback sprinter Sunny Sing, who worked home late for fourth after meeting interference near the 200m.
'We've had trouble with his feet but he seems to be coming right and hopefully that run will be good enough to get him a start in the Sprint,' Moore said.