Racing To Win shows the Australian raiders mean business
The only thing missing was a rousing chorus of Waltzing Matilda as the multiple Group One winners Racing To Win, Apache Cat and Scenic Blast put everyone on notice that this year's Australian contingent is not only well credentialed, but properly prepared for action.
Horses from Down Under have been thin on the ground at the Sha Tin December showpiece in recent years, with dual Sprint hero Falvelon the last winner of any of the four features back in 2001.
Yet this year promises to be different, with Australia boasting three strong representatives in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint and a very special seven-year-old, Racing To Win, primed for the Hong Kong Mile.
Although not asked to go as fast as his sprinting compatriots yesterday, Racing To Win really filled the eye, working 1,200 metres on a lush Sha Tin course proper that relished an unseasonable overnight drenching.
With work rider Stefan Lockie on board, Racing To Win strode off solo down the back straight and went 1,200m in one minute 23.1 seconds, improving from the 600m to clock 37.5 sec and opening up attractively over the final 200m in 11.5 sec.
The John O'Shea-trained Racing To Win has won four Group One titles in Sydney, as well as being nosed out of this year's Group One Doomben Cup at 2,020m by Scenic Shot. Apart from his last-start fourth to the same gelding in the Mackinnon Stakes at Flemington on Derby day (October 31), Racing To Win's current form credential is a blistering first-up win over 1,400m in the Theo Marks Quality, in which he shouldered top weight of 60kg (133lbs) and put his rivals away in a matter of strides at the 200m with a sparkling piece of acceleration.
About 600m behind Racing To Win yesterday, petite Danielle Ellett rode tall on Apache Cat, balanced perfectly on leathers Shane Dye would call short. The baldy faced chestnut is on a revenge mission following his third to Inspiration 12 months ago, when jockey Corey Brown blamed his 'hitting a flat spot' for a battling finish.
Apache Cat tuned up for his return bout with 800m on the grass in 51.2 sec, the last 400 in 22.3 sec and no one should have been able to fault his fluency.
Then came Scenic Blast, Australia's reigning Horse of the Year and the latest name from Down Under to successfully dust up the toffs at Royal Ascot. Trainer Danny Morton did the steering job, allowing the West Australian racer to do pacework from the 1,200m before going up a gear for the final 800 in 50.6 sec. They ran the last 400 in 21.8 sec and the final 200 in 10.37 sec - very close to horse racing's sound barrier.
The final member of the four-strong Aussie contingent, the booming finisher All Silent, had a quiet morning of two laps of cantering on a rain-soaked all-weather track.
Japan's horses are renowned for the sheer volume of hard work and last-start winner Queen Spumante did her share, doing even time (15 sec per 200m) for almost a lap.Of the locals, Thumbs Up (Brett Prebble) stole the early morning show under lights, embarrassing stablemate Big Profit at the end of 1,200m in 1:24.7 in a nice pipe-opener for Sunday's battle with the Europeans at 2,400m in the Hong Kong Vase.