Rocket Man ready for blast-off - but he must get past our runners first
Rocket Man heads an imposing contingent of Asian-trained runners in the 2011 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint (1,200m), as the Singaporean speedster attempts to go one better than his heart-breaking second last year.
The six-year-old was beaten by a nostril by JJ The Jet Plane and since then has won five of six, including the Group One KrisFlyer International Sprint on home turf and the Dubai Golden Shaheen in the emirate.
A flat fourth in the Sprinters Stakes in Japan and a less than convincing small-field victory in Singapore earlier this month have many wondering whether Patrick Shaw's showy gelding's best is behind him. And if he does not measure up, the locals look ready to pounce.
JJ The Jet Plane's victory marked the first time since 2001 that a Hong Kong-trained runner failed to win the sprint on International Day, but this year's home team seem to have the quality to wrest back their short course dominance.
There is no obvious standout among the seven Hong Kong-trained runners, but any could contend, from the top-rated Sacred Kingdom - the reigning sprinter of the year - down to Joy And Fun, a proven international performer racing in career-best form.
Four of the top five from Sunday's Jockey Club Sprint line-up, plus Sacred Kingdom and the Caspar Fownes-trained pair Lucky Nine and Green Birdie could be contenders.
Lucky Nine's Japanese foray did not live up to his name - he was desperately unlucky in both starts - beaten a head when making a late dive in the Group Two Centaur Stakes and then flattened when looming ominously in the Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama.
Japanese horses have been mostly disappointing in Sha Tin's flagship sprint, but this year they send the quinella from the Sprinters Stakes: Curren Chan and Pas de Trois. Curren Chan, in particular, has form lines that read like a potential winner. The flying four-year-old filly has had just five starts, all at stakes level, and has won her last four races.
A European or US-trained runner has never won the sprint and of the four non-Asian contenders the Edward Lynam-trained Sole Power brings the strongest recent form.
The four-year-old was an unlucky third in the Group One Prix de L'abbaye de Longchamp - Europe's biggest sprint - during Arc day and beat Group One winners Kingsgate Native and Prohibit in the Group Two Temple Stakes at Haydock in May.
The first two from Canada's Group Two Nearctic Stakes at Woodbine also take their place: Regally Ready and Bated Breath.
The US-trained Regally Ready (Steven Asmussen) backed up his win at Woodbine with victory at Churchill Downs in the Breeder's Cup Turf Sprint and has a career record of five wins from eight starts.