Lucky Nine ready for his next Group assignment
Caspar Fownes rounded out Hong Kong Sprint winner Lucky Nine's preparation for next Sunday's Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup (1,400m) with a imposing 1,200m all-weather track trial win, with stablemate Let Me Handle It motoring home in second.
Since seemingly taking the mantle as the premier sprinter in town with a tough victory on International Day, Lucky Nine has put in underwhelming efforts in the first two legs of the Hong Kong Speed Series.
A flat sixth in the Centenary Sprint Cup (1,000m) was followed by a closing second as even-money favourite in the Chairman's Sprint Prize (1,200m).
Both performances seemed to confirm what many believed - that Lucky Nine is actually a miler with the class to compete in top-level sprints. After all, he won the Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Classic Mile (1,600m) last season and was subsequently placed at Group level over 1,400, 1,600m and 1,800m.
Whatever his best distance, and despite his considerable early-career successes, Lucky Nine's best performances could still be ahead of him.
With Gerald Mosse filling in for the injured Brett Prebble, Lucky Nine appeared for his trial looking well, although the northern hemisphere-bred five-year-old doesn't have the physique to match some of his sprinting rivals.
He travelled strongly three-wide throughout the trial, pulling his way to the front, Mosse asking for some exertion down the stretch.
The time of 1.12.7 was average, but the horse closed off in good fashion, winning by three-quarter length against some classy rivals.
Finishing runner-up was Fownes' Let Me Handle It, who was third in last year's Group One Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby and before that, the Classic Cup.
The four-year-old then stamped himself as a stayer of promise with fourths against older horses over 2,400m in the Queen Mother Memorial Cup and the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup. But at the start of this term, it seemed Let Me Handle It may not live up to his potential.
He was found wanting against the top horses before a second to Captain Sweet in a Class One over 1,400m gave some hope. Back in against the big boys at his last two starts, he has been found out again but has run-on gamely.
His last-start sixth was better than face value over an unsuitable 1,600m, as he ran home his last 400m in 22.41, four lengths from the dominant Ambitious Dragon, with only the winner, California Memory and stablemate Thumbs Up running faster final sectionals. That trio of rivals all line up in today's Group One Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cup, while Fownes eyes handicap options for his charge and sets him for the longer races.
Jacky Tong Chi-kit was aboard and he let Let Me Handle It stride easily on a long rein, as he sat last in the heat. He looked suburb pressing home, letting down with a long stride and closing fast.
Third was Sichuan Success (Tye Angland), who always trials well and will face Lucky Nine in the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup and in fourth was Bear Hero (Neil Callan). He looked a treat, but may have been entitled to finish a little more strongly.
All eyes were on multiple Group One winner Beauty Flash in the second trial, with the 2011 Hong Kong Mile winner producing flat performances of late.
The six-year-old was niggled at by Mosse throughout, and he wasn't convincing, finishing well back.