Rule out Kingdom at your peril, warns Yiu
Trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai is staring down the barrel of another major international sprinting triumph on Sunday, but remains coy on whether he expects it to come via champion speedster Sacred Kingdom or rejuvenated underdog Ultra Fantasy.
Sacred Kingdom burst back onto the scene in his first run back this season after recovering from his life-threatening bout of colic, but a below-par performance in the major lead-up race - the Jockey Club Sprint (1,200m) - has allowed doubters to grow like mushrooms after rain.
Ultra Fantasy returns from Japan and a historic Group One Sprinters Stakes win at Nakayama racecourse in Tokyo and has been burning the house down at trackwork.
In any other situation you would think the trainer might favour the latter in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint, but Yiu knows better than to write off the 'miracle horse' who has scaled the heights of world sprinting and stayed there for more than three seasons.
'Sacred Kingdom hasn't missed a day of work since his second-up run and has come on well for it,' Yiu said. 'He dashed up 400 metres on the all-weather track this morning and had his last full gallop on the course proper last Saturday. A little setback kept him off the track for a few days after his first-up win, and I believe he was probably in need of the run in the Jockey Club Sprint second-up.'
Yiu is more relaxed about the apparent failure now than he was after the race. He paced nervously outside the veterinary quarters while the staff ran a fine-toothed comb over the champion in search of a problem.
'He didn't run badly that day, but it wasn't his best,' Yiu said. 'When he wasn't working after his first-up run he just kept putting on weight, and it was probably a lack of fitness that stopped him in the end.
'He had a wide run around the bend, he had to hit top gear almost at the top of the straight, and he was just found wanting at the finish. Brett Prebble looked after him once he started to peak on his run that day, and that should only do him good with a view to Sunday.
'Fingers crossed he can produce another miracle, because at his age you never know when he might stop being competitive at the top level.'
Prebble said he had regained his confidence in Sacred Kingdom after the gelding's work went as planned yesterday, in contrast to his workout last Saturday described by some track watchers as 'disinterested'.
'Today was just what the doctor ordered - super,' said Prebble. 'He was out for a sharpen up and he came back bouncing and kicking. On Saturday, the horse he was supposed to work with took off on the rider and left Sacred Kingdom by himself and he's very lazy when he's on his own and doesn't give you a lot. That gave us no guide to how he is going but the work today gave me real confidence again'
As for the underdog Ultra Fantasy, Yiu said he had been working well and was extremely happy with drawing gate four.
'We know he races well fresh, and I was extremely happy with his recent barrier trial win,' Yiu said. 'Everything depends on the pace for him, and it looks a fast race on paper - but that's what they said before the Sprinters Stakes in Tokyo, too.'