Doleuze confident of Kingdom chances
Olivier Doleuze is looking forward to his first ride on Sacred Kingdom on Sunday and is fully expecting the two-time world champion turf sprinter to return to his pedestal.
Sacred Kingdom will have his second run back from injury in the HK$4.5 million Chairman's Sprint Prize - the second leg of the Hong Kong speed series - and his task has been made slightly easier with a virus having sidelined the nominal danger, dual Group One winner Inspiration.
Doleuze had his first taste on Sacred Kingdom last Saturday morning at trackwork and it was a good thing that the Frenchman was prepared to be underwhelmed, because, indeed, he was.
'He's not a trackwork horse, not one that you can get a feel of in the mornings and know him straight away,' Doleuze said. 'He's very relaxed and gives no great impression when you ride him in the mornings, but that's OK because it's what I'd been told to expect.'
Doleuze was delighted and slightly on edge about having drawn barrier one in Sunday's Group One sprint at 1,200 metres - a race Sacred Kingdom (Gerald Mosse) won comprehensively last year from Absolute Champion in a replica of the 2007 Hong Kong Sprint result.
'My initial reaction would be that I'll make him begin and allow him to go forward and then see what happens,' Doleuze said. 'But I'll talk tactics with [trainer, Ricky Yiu Poon-fie] tomorrow and see what he wants.
'I'm just excited to have the opportunity to link up with a horse that is a great champion. As everyone knows, I lost the ride on Good Ba Ba in December and to come up with the opportunity to ride another legitimate champion, so soon after, is really wonderful.
'There isn't a jockey in the world that wouldn't jump at the opportunity to ride this horse.'
Howard Cheng Yue-tin was Sacred Kingdom's jockey when he was beaten first-up and, true to form, connections have parted company with a beaten jockey for a third time.
'Obviously, I'm aware of the history, but it's an honour to be invited to ride a horse of Sacred Kingdom's calibre. I hope he can win this race on Sunday - and I actually expect him to win - so hopefully I can do that and retain the ride for his next start,' the Frenchman added.
That would set up the mouth-watering prospect of a return match with Good Ba Ba in the Group One Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup at 1,400m on March 15.
Last year, the match in this very race was won by Good Ba Ba from Sacred Kingdom but the decision was by no means cut and dried, with Sacred Kingdom (Mosse) being hopelessly blocked for most of the home straight, while Good Ba Ba (Doleuze) sprinted home with clear, unimpeded running out wide on the track.
The defeat cost Mosse his successful association with Sacred Kingdom (to that point, four wins and a short-head second from five rides) and now the cycle has turned an unexpected direction, with Sacred Kingdom's new rider being the spurned former partner of Good Ba Ba.
Enthralling? Absolutely. But first there is a matter of Sunday's Group One to clear away and standing in Sacred Kingdom's path is a horse of maximum resistance, the brave and ultra-consistent Enthused.
'It does look like Enthused is the one for us to beat and we'll all be looking out for a possible late rush from Green Birdie,' Doleuze warned of his former regular mount from the Caspar Fownes yard.
Christophe Soumillon, riding at his final meeting on his tour of duty, will be the new rider for Green Birdie. Soumillon returns to France on Monday, where he will be retained again this season by the Aga Khan.