Finezza has dash to whip past Derby candidates
Finezza's impressive turn of foot will stand him in good stead stepping up in grade and help him repel the test of a trio of highly rated Group One Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby-bound hopefuls.
Paul O'Sullivan has taken the 'if it's not broke, don't fix it' approach with his horse as he chases three straight wins over the Sha Tin mile, and Finezza (Olivier Doleuze) won't know himself with 121 pounds on his back after lumping 125 and then 132 to victory at his last two wins.
Jumping into Class Two for the first time can be difficult, especially for a horse with what seems like limited upside - Finezza is a five-year-old at his 15th start, albeit with four wins and three of them over this trip.
What separates him from his opposition today is his devastating dash at the end of 1,600m and confidence surrounding him is boosted by a decent draw (five) and good form lines in recent races.
Doleuze was at his dynamic best when he got Finezza's head down on the line to beat Aomen last start, with that John Size-trained stayer winning easily next time out and bound for bigger things. Finezza put in a devastating performance to win on international day, after he was beaten a head by Scarlet Carmellia - a horse heading to Class One or beyond, and who had an easier run in transit.
Any horse with Finezza's get-back-and-dash racing pattern needs speed up front to show their best and the tempo should be solid here.
Both of Tony Cruz's runners, Turf Express (Gerald Mosse) and Bould Mover (Matthew Chadwick), can race handy. If Mosse can't find the front from gate eight, he could easily get strung three wide, where he raced last start when Turf Express ran an impressive second after seeming gone at the 400m.
Another horse pushing forward could be Cheers Joy (Douglas Whyte), one of the three Derby-nominated runners who are having their first starts in Hong Kong.
Cheers Joy adopted front-running tactics overseas, good enough for a record of four from seven, plus a close second to Irish Derby winner and Epsom Derby runner-up Treasure Beach in the Secretariat Stakes.
He has drawn two and, with four trials under his belt, the 95-rated gelding cannot be underestimated. Whether Cheers Joy continues to stride forward under new handler John Size remains to be seen, his trials and a crossed nose band indicate more conservative tactics could be in order, especially first up.
For all three of the four-year-olds aimed at bigger things, the question mark of fitness could arise.
John Moore's pair Dominant (Neil Callan) and Dan Excel (Jeff Lloyd) come in with less trials and are likely to need the run - especially the 94-rated Dominant - and it would be no surprise to see all of the four-year-olds saving their best for the Mercedes-Benz Classic Cup (1,800m) on February 19.
A career-best performance over 2,000m says Dominant will peak on Derby day in March, as do a couple of trials that left room for improvement.
Dan Excel, off his rating of 89, could be the one to spring the surprise first-up performance, as his best three-year-old effort was over the trip and a forward trial showed some spark.
Suspended Darren Beadman rode the son of Shamardal in his 800m Sha Tin turf trial and tore from behind to win, weaving witches hats out in the centre of the track along the way.
His closing sectionals were enough to suggest some genuine ability at the shorter trips, and a peak at his form reveals the calibre of competition he has faced overseas. So You Think, Roderic O'Conner, Treasure Beach and Galikova have won races he has contested and although he hasn't finished too close to them, a Class Two is a big step down from those types of horses.