Sprinters' battle for honours still a wide open race
On the one hand, Joy And Fun's well-deserved Group One victory on the weekend reiterated one of the positives in our top-grade racing scene here but, on the other, the same evidence served to highlight the current transition period for Hong Kong's sprinters.
Albeit with Entrapment absent, Joy And Fun managed to beat the top sprinters around as an eight-year-old, with a nine-year-old, Sunny King, in third.
On similar occasions, it has been worthwhile wheeling out the observation that the scarcity of top-class races in Hong Kong does help to preserve the A-graders for longer than other jurisdictions, where opportunities abound to run them more often.
Less wear and tear and you have them until they are seven or eight, or nine in Sunny King's case. It has been a blessing through the seasons for local champions like River Verdon, Indigenous, Oriental Express, Electronic Unicorn, Viva Pataca and Good Ba Ba to race on, and still effectively, to a ripe age.
Joy And Fun hardly qualifies under the less wear and tear heading, though - a fractured wither in 2007 and a fractured cannon in 2010 were injuries that could have ended a career at either moment but Joy And Fun has still managed 52 starts since his debut in October 2006, including trips to Dubai, Singapore and England. That's probably enough of a workload to not consider him under-used.
For much of his career considered a 1,400-metre horse who just about stretched to a mile, rather than a short-course sprinter, Joy And Fun is a tough, talented horse and a fine comeback yarn.
But his victory does still ask a few questions of the younger sprinters that an eight-year-old is still going well enough to lay claim to being as good as we have.
Sure, Lucky Nine would get the nod as the titleholder but only just. The six Group races at 1,200m or less this season have produced six different winners and it might take only a second Group race victory to secure sprinter of the year honours - add in Joy And Fun's HKSAR Chief Executive's Cup and he is already the most highly achieved short-course runner this term. A second win in Dubai would be game over.
Unlike the years of the Silent Witness-Absolute Champion-Sacred Kingdom ascendancy enjoyed by Hong Kong sprinters, the next big thing coming up the ranks hasn't measured up and matured into champion status in the last two seasons.
When Entrapment returned victorious in October from his enforced break, he looked like he might be Hong Kong's next top sprinter, but now that stress, injury, or whatever the underlying factor in his absence, has seen him voted off for the time being, we are back to the search.
With Black Caviar around, it is rather unlikely that, whatever had happened, Hong Kong could have retained the top slot in world rankings, but even the domestic throne stands vacant for whoever can pull the sword from the stone.
As for Sacred Kingdom, not the power he used to be, the decision to restrict him to 1,000m will certainly ensure he isn't overtaxed, with just one race left to him this season.
There are only three Group-standard 1,000m races at Sha Tin each year, though the handicapper might open up more options if the faded star continues to be beaten eight lengths, as he was on Sunday.
The six Group races at 1,200m or less this season have produced six different winners and it might take only a second Group race victory to secure sprinter of the year honours