Entrapment faces toughest test yet on Sha Tin return
After 15 months of veterinary tests, disappointments and setbacks, record-setting sprinter Entrapment returns on National Day with the weight of public expectations upon him - and jockey Douglas Whyte can't wait.
The Durban Demon is the man in the hot seat at Sha Tin on Saturday as he pilots the unbeaten flier in the Sha Tin Sprint Trophy (1,000m), on the same day he partners reigning Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon in his return.
Entrapment set a Hong Kong record in 2009-10 with seven wins, a mark equalled by Ambitious Dragon last season. Ask Whyte about the speedster and the tone of his voice tells you we're talking about one serious horse.
'I'm very excited that he's back to the track and up and running again,' Whyte said. 'He feels fantastic, everyone is asking me the same questions about him, but until he steps out on raceday nobody is going to know.'
While there is obvious excitement, there is also trepidation surrounding the return of the John Size-trained runner. The five-year-old last raced in June 2010, before being felled by a mystery nervous-system ailment.
Entrapment beat some quality horses in his seven-race stretch and two strong trials indicate he is ready to rumble. But going first-up on the straight course against seasoned Group One performers like Sacred Kingdom, Dim Sum and Sweet Sanette - combined with the time on the sidelines - make this his biggest challenge.
'I would say it is his toughest test because he has been off the track, he is a bit rusty and he's not 100 per cent ring-fit. He is going in there with a lot to prove,' Whyte said. 'To be off the track for over a year is a big ask for any horse and he is up against some of the top sprinters. I wouldn't be disappointed if he didn't win but I wouldn't be surprised if he did.'
If the strong-willed gelding's unbeaten streak does end on Saturday, Whyte suggested the hectic nature of a 1,000m dash could be his undoing.
'I do think it is going to be very fast run,' he said. 'The only downside to this run is that he is going to find it a little bit on the sharp side now that he is a little bit older and he is obviously used to going around a turn and having that extra distance, [although] he is going to have the fresh legs in the race.'
While the expectation is muted by trepidation with Entrapment, there will be no hiding from the hype surrounding the return of the Tony Millard-trained Ambitious Dragon. The horse became Hong Kong's latest equine cult hero with his deeds last season and carries top weight in the Group Three National Day Cup (1,400m).
Whyte chose to ride the Derby winner over two highly rated Size runners in a star-studded event - Flying Blue and Sichuan Success.
'It was a very, very tough decision, obviously Flying Blue and Sichuan Success are good horses in their own right, what Flying Blue did last season was phenomenal,' Whyte said.