The Japanese visitors gave an insight into their training strategies at Sha Tin yesterday when three of their international contenders went head and head in a sharp breeze on the all-weather track.
Sprinters Stakes heroine Curren Chan led off from the 800 metres, followed four lengths away by Pas de Trois, and a comparable margin back to last year's Triple Crown-winning filly Apapane.
Apapane rounded up the two Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint candidates approaching the final 200m and went home the better, completing the metric half mile in 49.4 seconds, the last 400m in 22.0 and the final split a fraction better than 11 seconds.
There was very little between the three over the ultimate 200m and the worse split of the trio was 'only' 11.1 seconds (Curren Chan).
While working a miler or middle-distance racer (Apapane) with two sprinters together at the same distance is relatively unusual in the western world, it's commonplace in Japan, where the speed horses do significantly more work than their Hong Kong counterparts.
The other major Japanese chance is Vase (2,400m) contender Trailblazer, who only raced in the Japan Cup 11 days ago and therefore has race fitness on his side. Yesterday, Trailblazer was restricted to two laps of cantering on the all-weather track.
Singapore's Rocket Man caught many clockers off guard when he rushed up 400m with barely a preliminary as the internationals began spilling onto the track at 8.50am. With race rider Barend Vorster on board, the 18-time winner made short work of the turf dash-up in 23.1 seconds.
Rocket Man, nosed out of the Hong Kong Sprint last year by JJ The Jet Plane, comes into his revenge bid off a career low, having been beaten out of the first three for the first time in his life when fourth in Curren Chan's Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama on October 2.
Since returning to Singapore, Rocket Man has registered another domestic race victory and a fast barrier trial win last week before his departure for Hong Kong.
British trainers James Fanshawe and Richard Hannon lent each other a hand, allowing Society Rock (Sprint) and Dubawi Gold (Mile) to keep company for a leisurely 1,000m in 1.12, the final 600m in 43.
Dubawi Gold has been living in the shadow of the mighty unbeaten colt Frankel, and is one of the internationals of real interest in the Hong Kong Mile, while Society Rock was an upset winner of the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.
Former club jockey Torsten Mundry has returned to Sha Tin as the trainer of Cup contender Durban Thunder, a bold-going stayer who loves to go out in front at a good gallop.
Yesterday, Durban Thunder effortlessly did a strong working gallop of 1,200m in 1:21.6, the last 400m in 25.4 seconds and left the clear impression that a repeat lap at the same speed would not have been a problem.