Eastern Empire can strike again
Eastern Empire has quickly acclimatised to Hong Kong racing with a smart second-up win last month over this course, and can add a trophy to his cabinet by taking out tomorrow night's final leg of the Triple Trio - the Volunteers' Challenge Cup - at Happy Valley.
The Tony Cruz-trained four-year-old was an experienced British performer, winning twice over the 1,600m from eight races.
He didn't have his first official gallop until November 18, but after two December trials he stepped out for the first time on January 24 in a Class Three over 1,400m and made late ground for ninth behind promising Aashiq after going back from gate 14 to indicate he is looking for further.
Backing up 17 days later over an ideal 1,800m at Happy Valley, Eastern Empire was nicely rated behind midfield and on the fence by Mathew Chadwick, switched out for a clear run at the 200m and stretched out well over the last 100m to gun down Strawberry, with rivals Man In The Mirror (fifth), Real Special (sixth) and Sleep Well (seventh) in behind.
Out of the Shareef Dancer mare Possessive Artiste, Eastern Empire is a half brother to Blue Stitch, a former 113-rated performer in Hong Kong and a 2,000m winner. As such, he will more than likely to get this trip and looks the logical banker from gate one.
Victory Mascot, stepping up in grade with a replacement rider for the suspended Brett Prebble, is backing up after last Wednesday's win over the 1,800m. He is unbeaten in two outings over the 2,200m and is the main danger, while trip specialist Man In The Mirror, Horace's Legend and Billion are the other main chances.
In the opening leg, The Untouchablelad has been knocking on the door over this course and distance and looks a standout.
He won't be too disadvantaged from gate 11 with his sustained running style and can topple his opposition late.
Magnanimous has a tricky gate, but has been racing in great heart and must be considered, while Nordic Star, Perfect Ten, Ho Wongchoy, Win A Dozen, Redoute's Fortune and Ottimo are all capable of a placing.
It's a tricky second leg, but it's hard to go past Keep Me, who shifted gears quickly to win well over this trip two starts back before tiring for fifth after a test of wits on the speed.
He will need luck from gate 10, but adds a tongue tie and a crossed nose band for this run, and has banker appeal. Last-start winners Classa Supreme, Karbridge and Care Free Midas, along with Win More, Rockalot, Chater De Lago and Supreme Gold are all chances.