King dons mask as he goes in search of sprint vengeance
A masked Sacred Kingdom will attempt to avenge his narrow recent defeats on Sunday - and trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai and jockey Brett Prebble are confident the addition of blinkers will give the ageing champion all the edge he needs to claim a second Group Two Sprint Cup (1,200m).
Sacred Kingdom will sport the head gear for the first time in his illustrious career, which includes HK$44 million in prizemoney and rankings as the world's best sprinter, and Prebble is confident the cream will rise to the top again after working the seven-year-old in blinkers yesterday.
'The King' completed his stroll over 1,200 metres in 85.5 seconds, but it was all the confirmation his jockey needed leading into Sunday's sprint feature at Sha Tin.
'His work has been really good, and I think the blinkers have made him more focused on the track,' Prebble said.
'We don't know exactly how much it will sharpen him up on raceday, but both Ricky and myself feel it is worth trying and hopefully it will help him stay switched on right to the line.'
Sacred Kingdom is bouncing back from two domestic neck defeats, the latest to Sweet Sanette over 1,000 metres in the Group Three Bauhinia Sprint and a close second behind Dim Sum in the Group One Chairman's Sprint Prize (1,200m), but Prebble still believes his champion could be capable of mixing it with the world's best.
'If the blinkers can add even a length to his recent performances, he [will be] back on top,' Prebble added. 'He is only being beaten by small margins, and even in the Hong Kong Sprint in December he was only three-quarters of a length off two of the best sprinters in the world.
'If the experiment with the headgear does work, there's no reason he won't be a force against the likes of JJ The Jet Plane and Rocket Man in the future, and although he is a seven-year-old now, he is still relatively lightly raced.'
There will be no world beaters as competition on Sunday - with a shallow list of challengers entered for the Group Two event, mainly comprising ageing stars or unproven youngsters.
Joy And Fun has not been the same since returning from overseas campaigns, and recent conqueror Dim Sum looks perhaps the most dangerous of Sacred Kingdom's older rivals.
Young competitors are also thin on the ground, with Multiglory dropping back in distance after being stretched beyond his endurance limits in an attempt to make the Derby field.
'The Sprint Cup field is not shaping up to be an overly strong race on paper, and I'd be disappointed if he's not in the finish on Sunday,' Prebble said.