Young guns can fill the hole left by departing greats

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 July, 2011, 12:00am


That the Hong Kong Sprint trophy left our shores for the first time in a decade probably summed up the transition period where Hong Kong's elite racehorses stood.

We bid farewell to the nine-year-olds Viva Pataca and Good Ba Ba; eight-year-old Able One missed the crucial part of the season; and a seven-year-old Sacred Kingdom, back from the long break enforced by his colic attack, was no longer Superman-versus-kryptonite vulnerable when the moment was against him, but flesh and blood beatable. He lost more than he won, was mostly valiant in defeat but was no longer a figure to strike fear into his rivals.

Losing the Sprint itself was certainly not the worst thing that could have happened, the race having reached a Japan Cup-style level of difficulty that was in danger of deterring worthwhile visitors. When J J The Jet Plane nudged out Rocket Man, the race changed complexion again, though the other three features on the day went to script, with the Mile won locally and the longer races going to Britain and Dubai.

International Group One wins numbered four, three to Beauty Flash, Xtension and Ambitious Dragon to maintain a recent 50 per cent strike rate on home soil. Despite the number of travellers to events in Japan, Melbourne, Dubai, Singapore and finally Royal Ascot going into double figures, Ultra Fantasy's upset Sprinters Stakes win was the only big offshore prize reeled in - though Dynamic Blitz managed a Group Three on Dubai's Tapeta track - and that too was symptomatic of the changing of the guard at the top. For varying reasons, the likes of Happy Zero, Collection, Entrapment, Thumbs Up or Super Satin didn't step up, leaving a wide hole between the old established stars and those still to establish a real foothold at the peak. Yet, the season also provided hope for a new generation that will fill that vacuum.

Ambitious Dragon may have been a touch fortunate to beat California Memory in the QE II Cup, but with three straight Group Ones including that international, he has built a platform to climb into the role left vacant by the departing greats.

California Memory himself is capable of wonderful things, though his style leaves him hostage to fortune in running.

The milers still look strong, with Beauty Flash and Xtension to be joined by rising stars like Lucky Nine, Flying Blue and Sichuan Success. The sprinters are more problematical, but the new term should see Entrapment return after a year off with a mystery problem, and perhaps Little Bridge, without the distractions of the Derby this time, could regain his best form.

John Moore will continue to look for that elusive foreign Group One with Mighty High in Melbourne later in the year and he will hold as many good cards for the top-end races as any trainer. Irian is a big-event contender and there is depth in his youngsters like Captain Sweet, Zaidan, Destined For Glory, Admiration, Silver Grecian, Smart Giant, and others - all prospective graduates to Group stardom.