Little Bridge has the right tools
Danny Shum Chap-shing should be ordering a top and tails after The Sprint Cup today, with his sprinter Little Bridge looking a good thing at set-weight conditions and ready to confirm a trip to Royal Ascot in June.
Little Bridge (Zac Purton) needs to win the 1,200m Group Two for Shum to make arrangements for the five-year-old to start in the King's Stand Stakes on June 19.
A favourable weight turnaround, plum draw and a main rival he caned with something in hand last start all mean Shum will be expecting to meet the Queen on the first day of the Ascot carnival.
Little Bridge started this season strongly, winning the Group Two Jockey Club Sprint (1,200m) in November, before starting close to a 2-1 favourite in the Hong Kong Sprint.
He was a little underwhelming when fourth on International Day, giving the impression Shum cashed his chips in the local lead-up, sending out a 'screwed-down' sprinter with nothing left in the tank. Two more flat performances to start the new year a further indication the New Zealand-bred gelding was a tired horse.
After a freshen-up, Little Bridge resumed in fine style last start, carting 133 pounds to completely dominate the Bauhinia Sprint, beating today's likely second favourite Captain Sweet (Brett Prebble) under a hold.
Little Bridge scored first-up after little work, just two serious gallops and a trial, but in the month since has slipped into a more orthodox routine and will be closer to full fitness today.
The recent rain is another positive for Shum's stable star. Perhaps too much is made of wet track form at Sha Tin, given the course's remarkable draining capabilities, but a perfect three-from-three record on good-to-yielding surfaces shouldn't dissuade followers, given the likelihood of a similar track rating this afternoon.
It's fair to say that 1,000m is way too short for Captain Sweet, who was stepping back off the requisite Derby campaign for Hong Kong four-year-olds - the same type of ill-advised campaign that could have ruined Little Bridge.
He was chasing for much of the trip over 1,000m, never catching a breath, as Little Bridge looked at home on the slick pace and filled the bridle for the entire journey.
Captain Sweet equipped himself well though - well enough for John Moore to produce a surprise Ascot nomination of his own - and he'll be better over 1,200m, but so will Little Bridge; his three previous wins over 1,000m were in lower grades and he has beaten the best in town at six furlongs.
Only Captain Sweet's creaky joints stop him from being a miler, with Moore unable to give the Fastnet Rock gelding the work he needs to compete at those trips, and runs in the Classic Mile and Classic Cup produced below-average efforts.
Moore said during the week only an easy win would see Captain Sweet on a UK-bound flight, but on weights and measures, he might need to consider whether an honest second is enough to warrant a trip. Captain Sweet was in receipt of six pounds of Little Bridge last time, yet was easily beaten 21/4 lengths, now they drop back to an even playing field on 123 pounds.
The trump for Little Bridge is a perfect draw - gate two in a seven-horse field. The map seems simple, Purton crosses Rich Unicorn (Mark du Plessis) and finds the rail, hard-going Leading City (Tim Clark) surges forward from gate three to lead or sit outside. Either way, Purton holds the aces and should dictate, with Prebble left to make up the ground from his likely one-off position on Captain Sweet, after he opts out of the early speed battle from gate five.