Manfred Man Ka-leung and his star sprinter Eagle Regiment are both on a steep learning curve heading into Saturday's Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai and the trainer hopes a setback during the straight-track specialist's preparation could turn out to be a blessing.
While neither horse nor trainer had travelled overseas before, Eagle Regiment's breakout season, with a string of spectacular performances up the 1,000-metre Sha Tin straight course demanded an appearance at Meydan in the US$1 million contest.
'It's hard for me, and strange to bring a horse overseas, and probably strange for him, too, but I am learning and hopefully he does as well,' Man said. 'It hasn't been easy to get him here, he missed more than 10 days of work after his last run, but that might turn out OK because it gave him a break and he goes very well fresh.'
Eagle Regiment has a record of six wins and three seconds from nine starts up the Sha Tin straight, and captured the first leg of the Hong kong Speed Series over the trip with a slashing win in the Centenary Sprint Cup.
Man (pictured) immediately slated a run in the Al Quoz up the Meydan straight, but a lead-up run - around a bend - resulted in the gelding pulling up sore. 'Both times he has gone around a bend he has got hurt,' Man said. 'Being a sprinter, the setbacks are not as important for him, because we have still had time to get him fit enough.'
It hasn't been an easy first overseas foray for the four-year-old - his flight was delayed and the horse lost 30 pounds through expending nervous energy.
Man said the gelding had done well since his arrival though, and would take to the track at close to his last winning weight of 1,193 pounds.
'He has caught up 10 pounds already and his body weight will be perfect, the horse looks good,' he said.
The horse was given a final hard gallop yesterday under assistant trainer Raymond Tsui. Raceday jockey Olivier Doleuze will arrive in Dubai today, but will not ride the horse in work.
Overseas bookmakers have Eagle Regiment at 12-1, with fellow Hong Kong entrant Joy And Fun topping most markets at 7-1.
Meanwhile, Caspar Fownes continues to nurse Lucky Nine, who suffered a major setback on Monday when he twisted a shoe and badly damaged his near side front hoof.
Fownes described the horse as being 'still one out of 10 lame', but had the horse canter slowly on the Tapeta surface he will compete on in the US$2 million Golden Shaheen (1,200m). 'He had progressed slightly,' Fownes said. 'Once you warm him up, you wouldn't notice. These horses like him, with big hearts, once they've warmed up, they find a way to perform.'