Absolute champ takes the points on payback day

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 January, 2008, 12:00am

Hong Kong's latest battle of the heavyweights threw up a surprise result at Sha Tin yesterday, with Sacred Kingdom - the world's champion sprinter for 2007 - downed at odds of 1-10 by his 2006 equivalent Absolute Champion.

Sacred Kingdom moved up to win the Group One Centenary Sprint Cup (1,000m) but was unable to answer the final burst of Absolute Champion, who had lost as favourite in the same race last year.

Sacred Kingdom was ranked as the highest-rated sprinter in the world for 2007 after a sparkling display in the HK$12 million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint on December 9, in which Absolute Champion ran second by 21/4 lengths. The following week, the handicappers of the world elevated him to an international rating of 123 and pronounced him, officially, the equal of the great Silent Witness.

Had Absolute Champion been able to master Sacred Kingdom on international day, the world title he claimed in 2006 would have been his once more, so yesterday was payback day in the battle of the champs.

Sacred Kingdom lunged outwards at the start, cannoning into Down Town, and jockey Gerald Mosse then had to balance him. Meanwhile Brett Prebble took his time on Absolute Champion and was tactically perfect in positioning the older star on the back of the young gun.

But when it came down to the championship furlong, and the two titleholders settled down to duel, it was the champ of 2006 who prevailed, oh so narrowly, from racing's supposed new superstar. The margin was a short head, with consistent Able Prince (Darren Beadman) 13/4 lengths away in third.

Mosse was the first to admit his shock at Sacred Kingdom's defeat, but advised fans not to give up on the four-year-old.

'Today, this was not the real Sacred Kingdom - this is not my horse, the horse I know,' Mosse said. 'I think the ground today may have suited Absolute Champion a little better than my horse, perhaps, but Sacred Kingdom was not the same.

'He has still run well, and he tried very hard, but it was not the same as he was in his other starts this season. There is nothing wrong, mind you, and I'm sure he will be back. But he was not quite at his top today.'

The Centenary Sprint Cup has become something of a hoodoo for the prevailing sprint champion of each era.

In 2006, Scintillation won and the favourite was the great Silent Witness, while last year, the incumbent champion sprinter was Absolute Champion and Scintillation won again. And in 2002, the 1.9 favourite All Thrills Too was downed by a rampaging Frankie Dettori on debutant Firebolt.