Marchand d'Or is back and even better, warns Head
Sunday will bring down the curtain on the most successful season of Freddie Head's training career, and the stable's Group One trophy cabinet will swell to 10 for the season if Marchand d'Or can make history in the HK$12 million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint.
Since the Sprint was launched, originally as a 1,000 metres race in 1999, it has been a Europe-free zone, with a 100 per cent record for Australian-bred horses spread between Australian and Hong Kong stables.
Last year, Head tentatively put his toe in the water by bringing Marchand d'Or and was not disappointed with his sixth to the mighty Sacred Kingdom, whose arrogant victory was rewarded with the title of world's best sprinter for 2007.
Head took Marchand d'Or home for the winter and the evidence suggests he learned as much as the grey sprinter, because both horse and trainer enjoyed a stellar 2008.
Not only has Marchand d'Or won four of his five starts since leaving Sha Tin 12 months ago - three of them at Group One level - but Head sits second only to Aidan O'Brien as the world's leading trainer of Group One winners for the year.
'He ran well last year but he's much better this year,' Head said. 'He's very well, I'm very happy with him.
'Marchand d'Or was not quite right when I had him here last year, he had a couple of little problems that stopped him a bit,' Head said, though it was left to a compatriot to explain that the critical 'problem' was a niggling quarter crack.
Head said he was not worried about how Sunday's sprint sets up, because Marchand d'Or has shown himself to be very versatile.
'He can do anything,' Head said. 'You can wait with him or you can be up with the leaders. So while it would be nice to see the pace on, and I expect it would be, I am not worried about it.'
Head was formerly one of the greatest jockeys in French racing history. He won the French jockeys' championship six times and won Europe's premier race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, four times.
The son of former leading trainer Alec Head retired from the saddle in 1997.