On the Rails
The weekend's international trial races - sorry but it still seems more appropriate than the thoroughly unimaginative Jockey Club Mile, Cup, Sprint etc - did their job to set up the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races next month ahead of today's announcement of the invited runners.
In victory, Sacred Kingdom may have dampened the anticipation of the Hong Kong Sprint, even though we have Happy Zero, US star Kinsale King and South African champion J J The Jet Plane, in particular, still to come in addition to the field that lined up on Sunday.
But in his defeat without apparent excuse, the Sprint has taken on an entirely different look. Is this the year that Hong Kong is under pressure to hold on to the Sprint that has been a home town event since 2002?
In many ways, Sacred Kingdom's run mirrored his run in the race last year when he came to win, then emptied out and Happy Zero trounced him. The difference of course was Sacred Kingdom had not had a race before it last year and this time came off an impressive first-up win.
Still, we aren't selling him out just yet. To our way of thinking, Sacred Kingdom performed up to his Sha Tin Sprint Trophy win even though he couldn't improve, contrary to the impression he had left when he won up the straight. Perhaps that improvement will come on December 12.
In any event, the gelding should not be judged in terms of the crazy odds on the tote board. Bear in mind, the favourite had won six of the first seven races on Sunday, every punter in town had money in his or her pocket and Sacred Kingdom was the obvious first choice. Was he a 1.5 chance in a race with that sort of depth? Hardly, yet defeats at those short odds tends to sour backers on the merit of the actual performance to more than the usual degree.
In the Mile, the performances of Thumbs Up and Able One line them up as very competitive next month both with each other and with the visitors, even if the depth of the home side beyond them will be open to some question.
There is talk that Paco Boy, the English miler who has given champion Goldikova a serious race more than once, will be here for the Mile, which would add some gloss to it. Doubtless there will be other big names. Yet, history shows the trial event to be a great guide with virtually every winner finishing in at least a place on international day, even though only two horses have won both races.
Previously, the horses carrying the 128 pounds, like Able One did, have not won the trial, so his winning with that weight augurs well for the big event, even if it seems very unlikely he would get circumstances quite the way they were in his favour on Sunday.