Yiu believes Kingdom will find his feet
The connections of champion sprinter Sacred Kingdom believe the veteran can capture a third Hong Kong Sprint, despite an unorthodox preparation and an unconvincing barrier trial at Sha Tin yesterday.
The four-time Hong Kong Sprinter of the Year, who won the international sprint in 2007 and 2009, will go into this year's feature on December 11 coming off a 10-week break and having raced just once in the last six months.
Trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai cited the eight-year-old's ageing legs as the reason for the light preparation and yesterday jockey Zac Purton gave the gelding his final serious hit-out in a 1,000m turf trial.
Sacred Kingdom ambled through his heat in the unaccustomed role of pacemaker against a mostly inexperienced field, holding off Class One winner Fat Choy Oohlala by a quarter length in a time of 59.41 second, his final two 400m splits in 22.9 and 22.1.
Yiu said Sacred Kingdom had not been sent out to break records and was content with his horse's sparse race schedule.
'He is an eight-year-old and there is not really much you can ask for,' he said. 'He was laid-back, it was a weak field and the sectional time in the first 400m was a bit too slow. He jumped well and did his own thing and when the jockey asked him, he responded.'
Purton said the lack of speed in the trial meant Sacred Kingdom had to be ridden against his normal run-on pattern.
'I just had to let him be comfortable,' Purton said. 'When he gets out in front like that he tends to wait for the other horses, so he wasn't getting to the bottom of himself. He feels pretty good, but I'd like to see him take something out of that trial.'
Sacred Kingdom hasn't raced since finishing second to Entrapment on October 1 and missed the Jockey Club Sprint two weekends ago, from which the top five placegetters have found a place in the Hong Kong Sprint. Those five were separated by 23/4 lengths in the Group Two, emphasising the closeness of this year's domestic sprinters.
The two other locals headed for International Day absent from the Jockey Club Sprint were Caspar Fownes-trained pair Lucky Nine and Green Birdie, who both had a trial over 1,200m on Sha Tin's all-weather track last Friday.
Not only did Yiu believe there was no standout among the Hong Kong horses, he also poured doubt on the race's highest rated runner, Singapore's Rocket Man, saying: 'he isn't the same horse.'
'We're in the race with an even chance,' he said.
After losing two major draw cards for the International Races on consecutive days with the withdrawal of superstars Snow Fairy and Excelebration, the Hong Kong Jockey Club yesterday announced replacements.
Last year's Vase runner-up Redwood takes the place of Snow Fairy and the Dennis Yip Chor-hong-trained Fat Choy Oohlala can follow up yesterday's strong trial, replacing Excelebration, in the Hong Kong Mile.
The club got another boost when they announced Frankie Dettori would compete in the International Jockeys' Challenge, replacing Corey Nakatani. Dettori is a two-time winner of the competition (1999 and 2001) and will represent Italy next Wednesday at Happy Valley.