Heavily Armed primed to rub out opposition
By ROBIN PARKE
LIGHTLY-raced Irish galloper Heavily Armed looks the answer in a tough first leg of the Double Trio at Sha Tin tomorrow night - but be warned, there are many chances in this tough, 1,400-metre trophy race.
The Pearce Memorial Challenge Cup is a regular end-of-season cup contest but there have been few more competitive fields than this one assembled over the past few seasons.
For banker purposes, the Geoff Lane-trained Heavily Armed is marginally given the nod with the belief that we have not yet seen the best of this very useful-looking galloper.
Heavily Armed resumed after a long break to win commandingly at his last start last month and there is no doubt that he was not at his peak for his comeback win.
Trainer Lane, enjoying the most successful year of his career, admitted as much, so the authority of Heavily Armed's win speaks volumes for his overall ability. Above all, the distance of 1,400 metres these days is absolutely in his favour.
A winner on his debut for Declan Murphy, Heavily Armed subsequently could be thought to have disappointed but much of that must surely have been due - in hindsight - to the decision to start him over short trips.
Heavily Armed has matured considerably and he has a penchant for slightly missing the start, which clearly makes him an above-average risk at sprint trips.
With that last run under his belt and giving every indication that he is in tip-top shape, Heavily Armed is preferred as the banker here.
But Master Eagle is certain to have heavy support. He ranged up to win on his debut when backed in confidently but did not quite go through with it, suggesting that he needed the run which was, after all, his debut.
But there is a nagging doubt. The horse did not look 'soft' in the paddock and trainer John Moore, the complete professional, can get a horse fit to run 1,200 metres on his debut. Master Eagle, given a perfect ride by Damien Oliver, did little more than stroll up to the leaders on his debut - but then found nothing.
But he must be given the benefit of the doubt to the extent that he cannot be left out of DT calculations.
Champion trainer-elect Ivan Allan has been looking carefully after his Irish import, Fukien Boy, and a big run can be expected from this fellow who will have the services of Basil Marcus.
It is hard to make a case for Jade Age on the gelding's last run as he was beaten out of sight by Heavily Armed so the David Oughton-trained galloper has his work cut out.
But his battling first-up win under Mick Kinane sticks in the mind and it could pay to give him another chance here.
Aashiq, if there happened to be any cut in the ground, is not out of it at all while trainer Brian Kan Ping-chee steps topweight Grassland Star dramatically up in distance. But he does have ability - and some sort of case could also be made for Lucky Optimists.
Victory And Glory despairingly chased home River Verdon in the Champions and Chater Cup recently but can gain compensation in the second leg of the Double Trio tomorrow night, the Queen Mother's Cup.
This is over the maximum Hong Kong trip of 2,450 metres and is exactly what this fellow is after.
Tony Cruz retains the ride and Victory And Glory, who has been carefully prepared by trainer Moore, will be just right for this contest which, despite attracting 13 runners, is not that intensely competitive.
Trainer David Hill starts topweight Fortune Leader with Greg Childs up and this out-and-out stayer will also appreciate the testing trip.
There will be interest centred on the Indian champion Astonish who blotted his copybook after a grand first-up win.
But there were good signs at his last start over a mile when he came from last on the corner under Rambo Tse Wai-ho to be a flying fifth at the finish over an unsuitable distance.
This, too, is the right trip for Astonish and trainer Lawrie Fownes has wisely engaged Eric Legrix, a strong rider. If Astonish can settle readily then he has the change of pace that could make him very effective in the finish.