Sacred Kingdom gunning to make up for lost time
Trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fie was already confident world champion sprinter Sacred Kingdom would return to his best form, and the recent barrier trial told the rest of us the gelding was right on target to regain his crown in today's Group One Centenary Sprint Cup (1,000m).
The hairline sesamoid fracture that kept Sacred Kingdom out of action in the early part of the season has healed and, unlike tendon or ligament injuries that don't heal so much as patch up, it leaves no reason to think the brilliant five-year-old can't come back and be all that we expect.
And Yiu did all the fans a favour by making sure Sacred Kingdom (Howard Cheng Yue-tin) had a proper hit-out and not a soft stroll when he trialled on January 20.
Not only did it properly blow out the cobwebs for a horse having his first serious gallop in nine months, but the trial effort fully explored whether the acceleration and mindset of Sacred Kingdom were what was expected. They were, as the gelding quickened sharply over the final 300m when asked and found the line strongly.
Now he turns to employing those talents again under race conditions and, while 'ring rustiness' is a possible danger, Sacred Kingdom still looks the dominant talent in the field.
His record still reads only once out of the placings in 13 starts and his two seconds were both in unlucky circumstances. He is unbeaten first-up, beaten only once at 1,000m in this race last year when he was not at his best and, but for the enforced break, would be lining up well into odds-on today.
Inside barriers are usually not any positive on the 'C' course - though it has played much more even this season than in previous terms - but Sacred Kingdom's gate two won't be any issue as all the chances have mainly drawn over there with him. Only surprise is Hong Kong Sprint winner Inspiration has drawn high and he has still to prove that victory was no fluke.
For those who have been warming the throne in his absence, today is probably the best shot they have at knocking over Sacred Kingdom before he gets fully back in the groove, but even that advantage may not be enough.
Enthused (Douglas Whyte) never puts a foot wrong, and his three runs up the straight have brought a win and two narrow defeats. Just on the basis of sheer honesty and the race fitness under his belt, he must be the danger to the favourite, but it could never be said Enthused has looked the same grade of horse at his best as Sacred Kingdom at his.
Kildare (Weichong Marwing) continues his advance into the top flight, and despite his apparent disadvantages under the weights, Derek Cruz's sprinter should not be undersold. He has been impressive in everything he has done up the straight course and is ready to take the next step.
Howard Cheng (below) is one for one on the super sprinter Sacred Kingdom: 100%