Island Speed finds winning rhythm
Island Speed has given the most positive sign yet that he can recapture his sparkling form of last season by thrashing his rivals in the fastest of two divisions of last Friday's barrier trials at Sha Tin.
Island Speed, a four-year-old by Flying Spur, has not raced since his unlucky ninth behind the classy Friendly Gains over 1,000 metres at Happy Valley on November 28. Jockey Glen Boss was the victim of circumstances there as he was sitting outside leader Fifty Fifty when Adaikali came across aggressively from a wide barrier and crossed Island Speed when barely clear, forcing Boss to switch across heels and get posted three wide with no cover for the last 700m of the race.
Now that may not have been where trainer Peter Ng Bik-kuen had envisaged he would be at the first turn - its no man's land on most courses but particularly on the sprint course at Happy Valley. And at Island Speed's first public appearance since that race, a new jockey, Zac Purton, handled Island Speed on this occasion.
In a much more sedate tempo, the trial unfolded rather more as the script suggested, with Purton parking Island Speed on the outside of pacemaker Master Cristo before towing his way to the front at the top of the straight.
From there it was a picnic for Island Speed, who was given an easy time by Purton to score by four lengths.
His winning time of 1:11.2 was 0.7 seconds faster than Sou Ma Tam (Christophe Soumillon) clocked under hard riding to win the second heat 15 minutes later.
Island Speed had a wonderful season last term as a three-year-old, winning six races and moving himself up the ratings to a mark of 90.
However, after four defeats in the new term, without having finished closer than sixth, the handicappers have given him just a single point of relief.
Island Speed is, as his name suggests, breed for pure pace. His sire Flying Spur was a member of Danehill's second Australian crop and won Australia's richest juvenile race, the Golden Slipper Stakes in 1995, beating a future champion in Octagonal.
Island Speed's dam is by Zeditave and his granddam is by Luskin Star, two of the champion 'Down Under' sprinters of the last 30 years. And like Island Speed, both were chestnut in colour.
Four lengths in arrears of Island Speed, a wall of horses hit the line in a battle for the minor money, with Lotzatow getting a tricky photo over Dash and Excellent Boy.
Lotzatow and Excellent Boy gave the leaders a big start at the half way mark but made up their ground in good style. Each of them would appear to be headed for the January Cup (1,800m) at Happy Valley next week.
Dash was ordered back to the trials by stewards after a poor performance behind Sambuoyant at Happy Valley on December 19, when he failed to travel on the bridle at any stage.
His performance here was satisfactory, keeping on at the one pace and at least earning his ticket back to the races.
The second heat was less inspiring, with Soumillon using plenty of vigour to land the prize on the Caspar Fownes-trained Sou Ma Tam.
However, a far more impressive trial was recorded by Headingley, trained by Tony Millard and ridden by his allocated apprentice Thomas Yeung Kai-tong.
Headingley led until the last few strides, always looked to be travelling well and was hard on the steel in the final 100m as the hard-ridden Sou Ma Tam made his late rush.