Outstanding Eyshal has Centenary Vase at his mercy
Few horses have been as consistent as the John Moore-trained Eyshal this season, and the Group Three Jebsen Centenary Vase (1,800m) looks the ideal arena for a proper reward at Sha Tin today.
It is a race that Moore has won three times previously, a race that until recently had some bearing on Derby discussions, but with the inception of the Derby Trial in close proximity to it, that role has evaporated.
Not one four-year-old goes around this time, but it loses nothing for that with a solid collection of middle distance gallopers lining up all the same, connections no doubt hoping to win a handicap feature before they are forced to tackle Viva Pataca & Co in the Gold Cup at terms.
Eyshal (Weichong Marwing) was imported for the four-year-old classics last season but didn't have his act together and disappointed in seven runs without a placing.
What a difference the break has made for the Irish-bred as Eyshal's form this term could not be more different - six starts, three wins and three placings - and he has been an adaptable, versatile galloper who is able to sit behind and find the line or go forward if necessary.
Nevertheless, it was hard to think he had the good end of things as a sitting shot at Happy Valley last time in the January Cup under 131 pounds when forced to lead.
One of his main rivals again today, the David Hall-trained Best Friend (Howard Cheng Yue-tin) was able to sit off him before proving too strong in the run home in receipt of 11 pounds, but Eyshal was far from disgraced.
The rise in grade brings the two horses close together on the weights, with Eyshal most likely dropping 13 pounds and Best Friend seven pounds from that race.
Californiamountain, Packing Winner and Sight Winner (Douglas Whyte) all go forward but they look unlikely to set more than a comfortable tempo, and that will give Eyshal the chance to be handy but relaxed behind the leaders until the final stages.
In an open affair, Best Friend looks a serious rival, but his main danger could be John Size-trained Sight Winner coming back into handicap class.
After finishing second in the International Mile Trial in November, Sight Winner was never out of trouble in the interference-riddled Hong Kong Cup two starts ago.
Since, his Stewards' Cup run was far better than it looks on paper in finishing sixth. Nicely positioned to the home turn, Sight Winner was then badly held up around the 200m mark when all the prizes were being handed out and he should have been fighting for fourth and a fair bit closer than his margin behind Good Ba Ba.
He'll find the trip and the grade much more appropriate and, despite drawing the outside gate, he is a horse who naturally takes a forward position, and the 1,800m start allows Whyte plenty of time to make his way across.
Number of times John Moore (below) has claimed the Centenary Vase: 3