Supreme Taiji can arrive on time
Horses which miss the start and horses drawn in the outside barrier are not usually a recipe for success at Happy Valley, but the chemistry of both of those factors might help Supreme Taiji upset the favourites in a tricky Hong Kong Squash 50th Anniversary Cup (1,000m) today.
The gelding has not been a winner out of his turn to date, with 17 starts for two victories, but he has been consistent enough to return another 11 first four finishes, despite poor barrier manners that often see him last to leave the stalls.
But a negative jump may not be the worst thing that could happen to Supreme Taiji (Olivier Doleuze) from barrier 12 as the race is chockfull of speed inside him.
From Vintage Hussler (Eddy Lai Wai-ming) in the rails gate to newcomer Palepale in the 11 alley, the overwhelming majority of the runners in the cup have a press forward style.
The likelihood of them all going for the lead is probably slim - doubtless quite a few will have the same idea about the speed - but there should still be plenty of pressure in the early stages as they sort their positions out.
And that may allow Doleuze to take Supreme Taiji across the back of the field to the rail, then ride for luck around the home turn before the design of the 'B' track rail kicks the runners left on straightening for home and the gaps open up.
For Doleuze and trainer Tony Millard, it is a relatively rare pairing this afternoon.
The French rider has been in brilliant form but has had only 53 mounts for the Millard yard in the past seven years, just nine in the last 21/2 years and his last winner for the team was Northern Hero in May, 2007.
While Supreme Taiji has often been ridden for speed when he does deign to jump on terms, he has also shown at other times that he can produce a strong finish when he doesn't work early and that looks the best scenario with the likely pace on this afternoon. Any other tactic will see him in a 'can't win' situation sitting off the track.
Supreme Taiji's only unplaced run over the Valley 1,000m came first-up this term when he had every chance but ran out of steam late behind Happy Yeah Yeah to run fourth.
Vintage Hussler looks a strong danger but he would prefer to have fewer leaders in the race. With a clean break, the five-year-old probably can hold the lead on the rail to the turn but whether he has to be seriously burned up to keep out some other quick horses is going to be key to whether he can finish the race off.
He didn't lead in his maiden win up the Sha Tin straight last year but only because Romantic City was in the race and, as he led all the way in his two Happy Valley 1,000m victories, it would surprise if he isn't ridden that way this time.
Top-weight Space Race (Gerald Mosse) is second-up but can sit behind the speed and probably has more upside than most in the race.
One question mark with him is that his Valley runs have been a touch on the plain side. As quite a big horse, he might not be at his best on the tight circuit, and it is also worth noting that he did take racing to get himself fit last season before putting some very good Sha Tin runs together.
The amount, in HK dollars, Supreme Taiji has earned for the stable after winning twice and placing seven times from 17 starts