Time has come for Champion to show his true colours
It hasn't quite happened for Gallant Champion yet in Hong Kong, but that can all change as he steps up to a more suitable distance in the Chek Keng Handicap (2,000m) at Sha Tin today.
He has yet to win from 15 starts, but Gallant Champion (Marco Chui Kwan-lai) has put the writing on the wall twice already this season at 1,600m - once first-up and again at his latest start on November 29.
Sandwiched in between, of course, was his fall in early October at the 200m when he was running on strongly as a heavily backed favourite. That incident appeared to set trainer Tony Cruz back in the gelding's preparation.
Going into his latest start with seven weeks between runs, it's reasonable to presume Gallant Champion might have been a touch short of his best form, but he still surged home from back in the field for second to stablemate Brave Spirit.
His stablemate, a natural front-runner, had enjoyed all the advantages of an uncontested lead, but Gallant Champion was able to pull plenty of ground off him in the run to the line - despite carrying a big weight.
He plummets to 110 pounds with a grade rise and he should position closer in the run over the extra distance, a trip at which he was a winner in his early days in New Zealand.
The race might prove another quinella for Cruz, too, with Derby aspirant Straight Forward (Matthew Chadwick) a likely improver with a run under his belt.
That was on international day when Straight Forward led the field over 1,600m and looked in need of the race, his condition failing him in the final 200m accentuated by racing against the inside rail in what appeared a slower section of the track.
Straight Forward was placed in the French 2,000 Guineas and Derby earlier this year, so his credentials are strong for what is a race comprised entirely of Class Two runners this time.
With the Derby still some time away, Straight Forward might need another race at this trip to tighten him right up, but his class will take him a long way.
It's a race filled with Derby hopefuls, and the Sean Woods-trained King Dancer (Johan Victoire) looks ready to put his best foot forward, judging by his recent trial, while punters should look for a better showing from Best Military, who had no luck in the same race as Straight Forward first-up.
Tony Cruz and Marco Chui have combined 633 times since 2006 for 47 winners with a strike rate of: 7%
Gallant Champion, who arrived with sound form from New Zealand, has raced 15 times at Sha Tin for three placings, earning: $754,000