Lucky Nine is the one to beat
Hong Kong Sprint winner Lucky Nine may not have the race experience of some of his rivals down the straight 1,000m course at Sha Tin, but he should handle it well enough to prove the horse to beat in the Kent & Curwen Centenary Sprint Cup today.
As tricky races go, the first leg of the Hong Kong Speed Series is right up there with the trickiest.
The Ricky Yiu Poon-fai-trained eight-year-old Sacred Kingdom (Zac Purton) is getting to the final curtain and coming off the worst run of his life on international day but there's no doubting his credentials up the straight course.
He would prove the one to beat if he could produce even his latest there when second to Entrapment, but just what can we expect these days from Sacred Kingdom? That is one of the questions to be answered this afternoon.
Age catches everyone and the Caspar Fownes-trained Lucky Nine (Tye Angland) is a young sprinter right at the top of his powers after an outstanding win in the Hong Kong Sprint, where he did cover more ground than was ideal.
In the history of the international event only Silent Witness (2004 and 2005), Sacred Kingdom (2010) and Inspiration (2009) have won the Centenary Sprint after winning the Hong Kong Sprint - and Inspiration did have a beaten run in between. So the bar has been set high. Lucky Nine did win his only straight course run easily, when he was a two-year-old in Ireland, and he has the right style for straight racing, with real natural speed to put himself into the event from the early stages. Few horses can give away starts in these events and win as the leaders really turn on the power through the middle of straight races at Sha Tin and give those at the back plenty to do.
On some occasions, Lucky Nine has even looked to travel a little too strongly in events around the circle courses, but that attribute will be a help to him today.
With question marks over some established performers, Eagle Regiment (Olivier Doleuze) is the up-and-coming four-year-old arriving at this race at the right moment.
He disappointed around a corner second-up, but his straight form has been impeccable with five wins and three seconds in his eight attempts at the course.
Eagle Regiment takes a step up in class from handicaps to level weights, but his comparative times stand up well against those posted by the big-name sprinters and he has not had any easy spoil in those handicap events, carrying big weights to run those good times.
The question mark horses are Sacred Kingdom and whether he can pick up the pieces coming back to his best trip in recent times, and Little Bridge (Gerald Mosse), who looked to run a touch below his best on international day but has a great straight record.
If the horses coming back from the international race don't bring their best game - and Rich Unicorn has been downright disappointing in his two defeats at the straight course - even under-rated At Moment In Time (Maxime Guyon) could cause a surprise. He has had little exposure to the Sha Tin course, but was unlucky last May despite being beaten three lengths, and is in best form coming off a huge win at Happy Valley.
The prize money, in HK dollars, Lucky Nine (seven wins and seven placings) has collected for his connections