MR VITALITY is confidently expected to take the crowning glory of the domestic season, the Derby, on a quality nine-race card at Sha Tin this afternoon. The imposing son of Snippets has won seven of his eight starts since arriving from Australia, meeting his only defeat when pitched in against genuine international Group Two opposition in the International Cup. He ran fourth to Japan's Fujiyama Kenzan on that occasion, looking as if he might well have failed to fully see out the 1,800-metre trip. And that is why some will oppose him this afternoon, allowing him to start at a backable price of around the 1.8-1 mark.
The contention abounds that he cannot see out the 1,800-metre trip over which the Derby is contested. But there are a number of reasons why he will stay the distance.
First of all, and with the considerable benefit of hindsight, he was made too much use of by Basil Marcus in the International Cup. With a more patient ride he would have been the first Hong Kong-trained horse home and not Jade Age who was considerably flattered to finish third as all he did was ran home through beaten horses.
Marcus is unlikely to make the same mistake twice and can be expected to ride Mr Vitality a good deal more patiently than in the International Cup. Secondly, the level of pressure through the race will be significantly less in this afternoon's Blue Riband event than it was in the International Cup due to the simple fact that the horses contesting the International Cup were decidedly superior to the Derby field. It was a solid Group Two event run at a fast pace from trap to line.
With less pressure expected today, Mr Vitality will find it much easier to see out the distance. Thirdly, maybe Mr Vitality's International Cup defeat was due to the fact that he simply was not quite as good as Fujiyama Kenzan and Ventiquattrofogli.
It might have appeared that he did not see out the trip whereas in fact he was just weakening because he had given his all. How would Deauville have run in the International Cup, for instance? And the rain which has been around all week is not forecast to fall on Sha Tin this afternoon.
Furthermore, Makarpura Star could only run sixth in last season's International Cup yet still managed to win the Derby. Mr Vitality ran a much better race in his International Cup than Makarpura Star managed and rather than using his International Cup run as evidence for the prosecution, it is probably much more enlightening to see it the main reason why he can and will win the Derby.
It was a very fine Derby trial. Marcus will have learned from it and Mr Vitality has taken the race in his stride as he showed when coming out and putting in a very strong win in the Classic Trial.
He scored by three-quarters of a length from Deauville, looking as if there was a bit in hand. In contrast, Deauville was beautifully ridden by Eric Legrix, arriving on the scene without having to expend an ounce of extra energy, and had every chance to run down Mr Vitality, but could not. Deauville still rates as one of the main dangers for two reasons. Trainer Patrick Biancone is one of them. No one is better at priming a horse for the big occasion as his record shows - Arc De Triomphes, French Derbys, England and Irish Champions Stakes and Washington and Rothmans Internationals.
Some may be his equal, but there is none better when it comes to squeezing out that last drop for these showdown events. The other is that Deauville had third-placed Adjareli another 23/4 lengths away and that is invariably a sign of good form. All the same, Deauville had had a perfect opportunity to beat Mr Vitality last time and failed. Adjareli raced fiercely in the blinkers in the Classic Trial which did not help his cause. He was also fresh after a protracted absence from racing. The blinkers are left off today and he is also fitter. He has to merit tierce respect at the least on his Irish 2,000 Guineas second to Spectrum and, of all the leading contenders, he is the one who has made most progress in his trackwork since the Classic Trial.
Citadeed has also progressed since his rather lacklustre first-up effort behind Hong Kong Supreme over an inadequate 1,200 metres. He should be a different horse over 1,800 metres this afternoon, is a Group Two winner, has placed in a leg of the American Triple Crown - the Group One Belmont Stakes - and must be afforded quinella consideration. Michael's Choice is the dark horse. He's won three of his four starts in the manner of a top-class individual and while this could be too soon for him, he is hard to leave out of the tierce.