Yiu's Lucky Emperor showing good signs
Ricky Yiu Poon-fai took out the highlight race - the Kent & Curwen Centenary Sprint Cup with star sprinter Sacred Kingdom - and came away happy about the performance of Lucky Emperor in the Class Five Badminton Handicap (1,200m) on the all-weather track at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Lucky Emperor came off the reserve list as a replacement for Vinsanto, who had a blood abnormality, and was unwanted in the betting at 34-1 odds from a wide gate with a switch to the dirt surface for Neil Callan.
He eventually worked his way onto the fence and behind midfield rounding the first bend, was under pressure 600m out to stay in touch, checked off the heels of King's Choice soon after straightening, switched into the clear with only Nice King wider out passing the 200m and ran on nicely to go down by two lengths to the well-fancied winner Kimber Fortune over a trip clearly short of his best abilities.
The five-year-old was tested on the dirt and turf, at both tracks and from 1,200m up to 1,800m, but could not get his act together in nine outings last season with only a distant fourth behind Goldmen Y Y over the 1,800m on the Sha Tin turf in June after arriving a winner of his only Australian start at Ballarat over the 1,400m.
Lucky Emperor was given ratings relief during the summer break to the tune of nine points and resumed on the brink of falling into Class Five off a mark of 41.
After managing only a close sixth over the mile at Happy Valley from his first three starts, he was an instant improver in the lowest grade 28 days back for a good rallying effort for third behind Speed Racer over the Sha Tin mile.
He's a son of Fusaichi Pegasus, who has had plenty of winners over varying courses and distances in Hong Kong - best of whom has been the former 123-rated retiree and Mercedes-Benz HK Classic Mile winner Floral Pegasus.
Lucky Emperor may never be able to live up to his smart pedigree, but appears a winner waiting to happen at this level with a step back up to 1,400m or the mile.
Almond Lee hasn't had too many memorable moments with only nine winners on the board, but the stable hard-luck horse Master Key appears on the verge of a breakthrough following a good late effort in the mixed Classes Three and Four Exeter Plate (1,400m).
Master Key had not drawn a gate better than 12 in four of his past five starts and wasn't given much of a chance from gate 13 on Sunday for Greg Cheyne, but he closed off nicely behind the moderate pace of eventual winner Dr Win to take fourth.
He had, in fact, put the writing on the wall in a November 28 run when drawing a rare inside gate of four to finish third behind the stalwarts Captain Sweet and Flying Blue.
The five-year-old son of Storm Creek is attractively rated off a 62 prior to the weekend effort after arriving a performed import last season off a mark of 83 for two New Zealand wins over 1,400m.