INTERNATIONAL Bowl favourite Concert King confirmed he is on his way back to his brilliant best with a scintillating barrier trial victory in the first of three heats on the Sha Tin equitrack yesterday morning.
The son of Noalcoholic made all the running under Mick Kinane to score eased down by a long-looking six lengths over Easy Reaching and Winning Partners in a quality time of one minute 08.1. Trainer Derek Cruz was delighted with effort which scotched rumours circulating at the track that all was not well with his stable star.
Cruz has openly admitted that Concert King had an elevated temperature for 24 hours going back a few weeks. But he has also stressed that was the extent of the five-year-old's problems who has been rested since being asked to carry a ridiculous 154lb down the straight 1,000 metres in the race won by Helene Star. After yesterday's trial, Cruz beamed: ''I'm very, very pleased with the way he is going.
He runs in the ATV Cup a week Sunday and I'm confident of having him spot on for the International Bowl. ''After the ATV Cup I may give him one more barrier trial just to make sure that he is really fit for the Bowl. ''This is the race we want to win, soit was great to see him go out and trial so well this morning. I told Mick to let him stride along a bit in the straight and he did exactly that.'' Concert King had his field well and truly strung out after 400 metres and it wasn't as if those behind were slouches.
Easy Reaching was a very promising performer last season but has suffered an interrupted preparation this campaign. Yesterday he stayed on strongly to the line to pip Neville Begg's impressive last-start winner, Winning Partners, for second. Given Easy Reaching's break from training he may be best watched during his first run back but he is definitely worth keeping on the right side of over the coming months.
His form from last season has worked out very well and he clocked very decent times. Winning Partners will find it much harder on his next outing having won by the best part of five lengths on his Hongkong debut when racing down the straight 1,000 metres.
But he is lightly raced, has masses of scope and could still be one step ahead of the handicapper. He was kept under a tight hold in the straight yesterday otherwise he would have finished closer to Concert King. He looks a potentially smart horse and no one would begrudge an old professional like Begg a decent horse.
His luck has been well and truly out with other potential stars like Active Market who has suffered such setbacks as a bleeding attack and a heart irregularity. Patrick Biancone's Grand Vefour, who comes here with useful form as a two-year-old in France,stayed on at one pace for fourth. He has a bright future but, given the way Biancone prepares his first-season imports, it may be next season rather than this.
The grey also shapes as if he will need at least 1,400 metres and possibly a mile to show his full potential. The day's other two trials were nothing special. The second went to Kenny Kam's problem horse Just Make who was once again illustrating the worldof difference there is between a trial and a race.
The trials are extremely informative for betting purposes but they can also be minefield and need to be carefully interpreted. In Just Make's case he is probably an example of a horse who can do it in a trial, where the pressure is so much reduced, but will struggle under the more intense conditions of raceday. A modest last heat went to Wong Tang-ping's ageing sprinter Everwell Gain who has also been struggling a bit in his races of late.
The best performance of this trial was from Ivan Allan's private purchase griffin Turf Champ who ran home a solid second and looks to have a future.