Super-charged Sprint shapes as world-title fight
The cream of international handicappers has rated tomorrow's Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint as one of the strongest races run anywhere this year, and the winner could become the world's highest-rated sprinter for 2009.
With the Sprint having thrown up the superior sprinting performance in the world in most of its recent runnings, Hong Kong's chief handicapper, Nigel Gray, said the prospect loomed as likely again with the depth of this field - provided they delivered on their promises.
'When you look at the big sprints around this year, it's hard to think of many horses which should be here and aren't,' he said. 'If they show their best form, then there is a strong possibility that the winner will become the highest-rated horse in the world,' Gray said.
'But we thought that 12 months ago and they didn't produce what we had expected. Inspiration was a surprise winner and the race didn't rate as highly as in previous years, so that's the one proviso - they have to run to their form.'
If the poll of the 17 handicappers is anything to go by, then Australia's All Silent stands ready to supplant Scenic Blast and Sacred Kingdom as the top-rated sprinter, with seven declaring the Grahame Begg-trained gelding the one to beat and Australian handicapper Greg Carpenter tagging him 'the sprinting Good Ba Ba' due to his paralysing finish.
The final leg of the Global Sprint Challenge (GSC), the Hong Kong Sprint (1,200m) is worth HK$12 million in stake money and occupies a place on the international card as the lowest-value race, but Gray hinted a change was in the offing.
'Given the strength of the recent runnings of this race, and particularly this year's field, the prize-money issue has not escaped our notice and the Jockey Club will be looking to further increase the Sprint's purse in the future to ensure it remains the premier turf sprint on the planet,' he said.
'The number of sprinters in this field who have travelled and won all over the world, like Scenic Blast and Sacred Kingdom, really strengthens the international quality of this race. They are producing season- and career-best wins away from home, and the field does look the strongest assembled anywhere in the past few years. In terms of a sprint race, this is the pinnacle of world racing.'
Perhaps British handicapper Phillip Smith put it best when he summed up the race and virtually dismissed Total Gallery, War Artist and Borderlescott as threats: 'I think the winner will need a performance rating of well over 120 to win. All Silent, with a current rating of 119, is capable of producing that sort of figure, and so is Sacred Kingdom, who is rated 122. I really think the British horses, who are in the high teens in the ratings, will struggle to match that.'
Irish handicapper Garry O'Gorman stuck his neck out at the panel session and declared the highest-rated Vase runner and nominal favourite, triple Arc runner-up Youmzain, would have his job cut out, despite his standing.
'The pace of this race is critical to Youmzain's chances and I can't see this being run to suit him,' O'Gorman said. 'Critically, Spanish Moon has beaten him twice when the pace hasn't been that strong and I've tipped him to beat Youmzain again - not because Spanish Moon is a better horse, he isn't, but the pace of this race makes Youmzain vulnerable.'
That suspicion was echoed along the panel as nine of the handicappers nominated Spanish Moon as the winner over six for Youmzain, while unbeaten French filly Daryakana was identified as the dark horse.
Local champions Good Ba Ba and Happy Zero were strongly favoured in the Hong Kong Mile, while the handicappers collectively made their strongest case for French horse Vision d'Etat to win the HK$20 million Hong Kong Cup at 2,000 metres.