ONE of the many enthralling things about the Hong Kong turf is that the best horses compete against each other in contrast to Europe where they are often kept in cotton wool, their connections terrified of the prospect of defeat and the attendant drop in stud values.
This is exactly the situation at Happy Valley tomorrow night where the past winners of the International Bowl, the Derby and the end-of-season sprint championship, the Chairman's Prize, are collected together for the valuable Happy Valley Trophy over 1,235 metres.
Last season's International Bowl hero, the Neville Begg-trained Winning Partners, appears to have come back in much better nick than he ended last season.
He was given a strong workout by Begg on Sunday and prior to that had gone to the line in a manner reminiscent of his form in the first half of last season when taking a trial down the straight 1,000-metre course last Tuesday.
But work is one thing and racing is another. In his races towards the end of last season, Winning Partners tended to carry his head at an even more awkward and higher angle than usual raising the possibility that he may have some kind of problem - maybe with his wind.
It is very much hoped that this is not the case and tomorrow night's clash will be most revealing.
The signs are certainly there that Begg, who has his burgeoning team in great form, has Winning Partners back towards his brilliant best.
There have been excellent signs emanating from the Patrick Biancone camp, too, over the condition of former Derby winner and luckless International Bowl runner-up Helene Star.
He has been troubled by leg problems since his prolific season the campaign before last where he won five in succession before being held up momentarily for a run in the Bowl and then beaten a whisker.
Biancone has given him plenty of work and his legs appear to have held up well.
He went really well on the grass last Tuesday and was again out working very strongly yesterday morning as he clocked a searching 1,200 metres in one minute 13.6 under Eric Legrix.
The French rider is excited at the prospect of riding Helene Star saying: 'He has given me a tremendous feel in his work. He's the sort of horse who I think would be capable of winning a Group Two race in France. I have no hesitation in saying that.
'What's more. His legs seem to be holding up to the work we have given him. Patrick has done a great job with him and I'm really looking forward to riding him.' Happy Money, nursed back by John Moore to claim last season's sprint crown, completes the triumvirate of speedsters.
His work has been right out of the top drawer, too, and he's a horse who has raced really well fresh in the past.
Indeed, he has surprised connections on occasion by simply bolting in when considered a little above him self.
His trials have been particularly noteworthy. For instance Brian York kept him under a very tight hold down the straight behind Winning Partners last week.
For tomorrow's opening event, Lawrie Fownes' Majulah Superstar impressed again yesterday morning and continues to improve.
There has also been improvement from Stephen Leung's Winford while Able Ride is going as well as he's ever gone. There may be two outsiders to keep safe.
The in-form Alex Wong Yu-on, so desperately unlucky with Supreme Monarch pyrrhic victory on Saturday, has kept Radiant Sun in prime condition for the second event. He's seldom looked better in himself.
Lam Hung-fie has Bold Bidder ticking along nicely for this so don't be surprised by a prominent first-up showing from him at good odds under his apprentice rider Vickie C. W. Choi.
Choi also has a big chance in the night's final event on the much improved Speedstar.
Choi scored on him at big odds last time, taking him to the front and improving his position.
The indiction from Speedstar's trackwork yesterday was that a repeat performance may well be on the cards.