HK's young guns prepare to take on the world
Despite going through a changing of the guard last term, Hong Kong's topliners still took two foreign wins courtesy of Ultra Fantasy's Sprinters Stakes in Japan and Dynamic Blitz's Group Three success on the Tapeta in Dubai, but the new season looks very bright as Caspar Fownes opens the batting in Japan next week.
Lucky Nine has set himself a platform into world-class competition as he reaches his peak this season and Hanshin should show what he is made of as he and Green Birdie tackle the Centaur Stakes.
Even if they can handle the Japanese there, the mountains only get steeper as Singapore champion Rocket Man will stand in their way in the Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama early next month after resuming with a soft tune-up win at Kranji recently.
With news that Black Caviar and Hay List won't be here in December, the Singaporean also shapes as the obstacle to a local win in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint.
The season will still be a foal when John Moore tackles some of the majors in Melbourne next month, but there are no soft targets- Mighty High is facing the dubious privilege of being raised to topweight in the Caulfield Cup and stablemate Silver Grecian will be borderline about getting a start in the Group One handicaps earmarked for him.
But the season ahead holds a great deal more blue sky on the international front than the past couple of seasons when elder statesmen like Viva Pataca, Good Ba Ba and Sacred Kingdom retained their place at the head of the rankings.
Beauty Flash stepped up to be the most accomplished miler last season, while Ambitious Dragon and California Memory moved to the top of the class at middle distances, but Sacred Kingdom came back to the field and there was no obvious sprinting heir.
Despite Beauty Flash's three Group One victories last year, including the international at Sha Tin, he will face plenty of opposition if he is to retain his domestic throne , not to mention any added firepower from abroad for the now-HK$20 million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile for which Goldikova has been pencilled in.
Lucky Nine, Champions Mile winner Xtension and John Size's Flying Blue and Sichuan Success will join veteran Able One and emerging Silver Grecian in opposing Tony Cruz's star in what shapes as a deep Hong Kong Mile team again.
It is the sprinting role that holds most interest. In an area where Hong Kong gallopers have headed the world for much of the past decade, Black Caviar will continue to be number one internationally, but the door is open for a domestic star.
Last season's Group winners Sacred Kingdom, Dim Sum, Multiglory and Sweet Sanette are still around but there are plenty of aspirants to the throne, especially Entrapment, Little Bridge and even Lucky Nine if Fownes elects to keep him to shorter races.
Time will tell if Moore can continue to get Able Speed to lift as he did at the end of last season or if Happy Zero, in training in Sydney, can get going again after serious injury. But there will be other younger names to emerge as the term progresses, among them Captain Sweet, Admiration and Eagle Regiment and even the junior star, Bear Hero.
The Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile is now the world's richest mile on turf (HK dollars)