Vodka calling all the shots as HK duo face uphill struggle
Hong Kong's raiders face an uphill battle in today's Yasuda Kinen in Tokyo, and even from more favourable barriers Armada and Sight Winner would have their hands full against Japan's champion mare Vodka.
The athletic black mare thrashed Armada by 31/2 lengths in this very race last year, and showed she is right back on song with a seven-length victory against her own sex in the Victoria Mile last start.
Vodka was just awesome and the big margin was not even a full measure of her superiority. She accelerated through a split at the top of the straight - in much the way she did in last year's Yasuda Kinen - and then made the rest of the race a soft procession. She appeared to win with energy to burn.
Vodka is one of the great females of Japanese racing history. She has won at Group One level at two, three, four and five. When she won the Derby [Tokyo Yushun, 2,400m] in 2007, she became the first member of her sex to do so for 60 years.
To then mature into a world-class miler was perhaps a surprise development, but she showed real depth to her character by winning Japan's Hong Kong Cup equivalent, the Tenno Sho (Autumn), over 2,000m at Tokyo in November.
The form guide will tell you it was a narrow win, but Vodka sat three-wide without cover throughout, giving the reigning Derby winner Deep Sky every opportunity to beat her.
Deep Sky is clearly a classy animal in his own right. He will be fitter than he was for his first race in 2009 when he found Dream Journey too strong over 2,000m at Hanshin in the Sankei Osaka Hai on April 5.
Armada has been one of Hong Kong's best milers over the past couple of seasons, even though a minor illness limited his participation for much of last term. He has again thrived in the less humid and cooler environment and will run boldly for John Size and Douglas Whyte. Sight Winner goes into this fourth leg of the Asian Mile Challenge as a last-start winner of the third leg, the Champions Mile at Sha Tin on April 26.
There are a lot of obstacles for Sight Winner to overcome - barrier 18, a firmer track and his first start in the opposite direction. Plus the fact that the Champions Mile did appear to be a lower-rating edition of this great race, with a number of horses performing to their maximum on the rain-softened track.
The other contender is Super Hornet, who defeated Vodka over 1,800m with a lucky late lunge last year and returned a winner in the Yomiuri Mile.