Packing Winner to give Vengeance run for money
Today's Group Three Centenary Vase (1,800m) will provide the answers to any number of questions, but rising five-year-old Packing Winner looks to have the deck stacked in his favour to topple the established stars under handicap conditions and confirm his place in the elite grades.
The Vase is an intriguing race with question marks over the form of Vengeance Of Rain (Anthony Delpech), Bullish Luck (Christophe Soumillon), Vital King (Brett Prebble) and indeed the Peter Ho Leung-trained Packing Winner himself, yet these horses form the class nucleus of the race.
Vengeance Of Rain failed to fire in the Hong Kong Cup in December, while Bullish Luck, Vital King and Packing Winner have had fitness issues since they last ran, but with just 116 pounds to carry, Packing Winner (Felix Coetzee) has more margin for error than the others.
A seemingly clean-winded horse, he has raced well fresh in the past and his tactical ability to take up a forward position without being pressured is a valuable asset that will win many races.
In Sir Ernesto, the race has an obvious leader and the Derek Cruz-trained galloper tends to roll along at a decent speed rather than slow them right up.
Packing Winner should have no trouble getting outside his hindquarters in the long run down the back straight, despite his outside gate, and he will be the one going clear in the straight when the race will come down to whether he can continue on as much as whether the others can mow him down.
As the course record holder, we know Packing Winner can run 1,800m right out in quick time at his best, though the track surface itself won't be allowing records this afternoon.
Certainly, if any of the other quality runners turned up in top form there would be no room for error for Vengeance Of Rain under 133 pounds as he seeks a second win in the race, which announced his arrival in the top grade in 2005.
For form students who fancy the Dubai Sheema Classic winner, the weights offer a sobering comparison. Viva Pataca beat Packing Winner by a length - albeit a comfortable one - giving him five pounds in November. Now Vengeance Of Rain must give Packing Winner 17 pounds, and it is pretty certain Viva Pataca would be long odds-on to beat the topweight were he to be here getting 12 pounds from him.
But, like most races, it isn't as straightforward as that. The topweight has also had a better preparation than his rivals, simply because his campaign has been uninterrupted since the poor run on December 9 when there was always a query on his readiness. With trainer David Ferraris keen to pursue a defence of the Sheema Classic at the World Cup meeting in Dubai next month, Vengeance Of Rain needs to put his cards on the table to justify an invitation and today's event will give him that opportunity.
Packing Winner has had a tendon issue, Vital King a significant blood level in his trachea when he failed in the Hong Kong Vase and Bullish Luck has had leg problems, too.