Old warrior Armada can get New Year off to a cracker
It has been over 18 months since Armada greeted the judge, but the John Size-trained gelding showed last start the spark is still there and he can get back to the winner's circle in the Chinese Club Challenge Cup (1,400m) today.
Although Armada (Douglas Whyte) earned his peak rating of 130 as the top miler three years ago, it's worth noting that he has won just as many races at 1,400m. His latest narrow second over the trip was all the form he needs to win the opening Group Three feature of 2010.
It's a race Size has won on three previous occasions with Grand Delight (2003), High Intelligent (2005) and Pocket Money (2008) and, with the yard in such brilliant form, Size would no doubt take some satisfaction in getting Armada onto that list in the autumn of the gelding's career.
The eight-year-old did not enjoy much good fortune in his first two starts this season over sprints trips, but with a drop to a Class One handicap and a rise in distance last time out, he gave boom four-year-old Beauty Flash a proper scare, despite having to concede him nine pounds.
Although Armada rises again to Premier class, he drops from 133 pounds to 120 in the handicap and it isn't so long ago he was competing so well in the best of races at level weights with a horse like Egyptian Ra, who will be asked to concede weight to him.
From gate two, Whyte should be able to pick his spot behind the speed and that looks a vital talent. Only three horses look capable of leading - the Tony Cruz-trained stablemates Dream Team and Egyptian Ra and Armada's stablemate, Tuscan Spirit - and the most likely scenario with a clean break is that Egyptian Ra will take up his regular position dictating in the lead and the others track him.
While Egyptian Ra usually sets a worthwhile speed in any case, Armada's ability to be handy will give him an edge over a strong rival from the John Moore stable, Sunny King (Howard Cheng Yue-tin).
He is another who put in a big performance behind Beauty Flash on international day.
Sunny King has been in terrific form without winning this season, but he will likely be conceding a decent start when they straighten.
John Size and Douglas Whyte have been in impressive form, boasting a strike rate from 86 outings of: 12%