Heartbreak again in Tokyo for Caspar Fownes and Lucky Nine, as Hong Kong's powerful challenge for the Group One Sprinters Stakes dissolved in a misstep at the start.
With Lucky Nine and Royal Ascot winner Little Bridge in the HK$20 million race yesterday, this looked before the race like a year Hong Kong could win it and it looked much the same afterwards but Lucky Nine's number on the semaphore still showed him only fifth.
"He fidgets around in the stalls and when they pressed the button he was on his hind legs and had no power to push himself out of the stalls," said jockey Brett Prebble. "He gets agitated in the barriers and in Hong Kong he goes in later and has someone with him, but under the Japanese rules he can't do that. They are the rules and so that's the risk with him but it's disappointing - if he jumps he races much closer and just about wins the race."
Twelve months ago Lucky Nine had a sad story after the same race when interference looked to cost him being right in the finish when fifth to Curren Chan, but yesterday both Prebble and Fownes admitted the problem was all of the horse's own doing behind Lord Kanaloa and Curren Chan.
"He's always like that in the stalls even in Hong Kong," said Fownes. "But what a run. I think he'd have won the race even after missing the start but for having to come off heels. He was only two lengths behind Lord Kanaloa at the 500m, but then he couldn't get a run between horses and Brett had to come back and around a horse to get clear and by then he was four and half lengths, five lengths behind the winner. He's been beaten less than two so he must have run sensational sectional times. It's disappointing because I felt we had him so fit, so well but it's a horse race - it's hard to win at this level if anything at all goes wrong."
Hong Kong raiders come up short in Sprinters Stakes  from South China Morning Post  on Vimeo .
There was disappointment once again for Hong Kong's two runners in Sunday's Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama. SCMP's Alan Aitken caught up with Lucky Nine's jockey Brett Prebble and trainer Caspar Fownes, as they react to the five-year-old's fifth, after he missed the start.
Jockey Zac Purton gives his take on Little Bridge's seemingly disappointing effort.
For Little Bridge, trainer Danny Shum Chap-shing had said during the week that not having raced for three months was a completely unknown factor with the King's Stand Stakes winner but the gelding's lack of race fitness was seriously tested by the course record pace and he faded to finish 10th, some four and half lengths from the winner, Lord Kanaloa.
"He was struggling to hold his place by the halfway mark of the race and they were just going too fast for a horse who wasn't totally fit," said jockey Zac Purton. "He probably looked very disappointing but we knew he wasn't one hundred per cent, even though Danny did a great job to get him back to his winning body weight from Ascot. Without having a race under the belt, it's hard to win in this kind of class. I don't think anyone should give up on him though - he'll go back to Hong Kong and be peaking for international day."
Shum said the telling factor in the preparation was the length of Little Bridge's quarantine requirements after Royal Ascot, with five weeks' quarantine in the UK before another two weeks once he arrived home in Hong Kong.
"It was just fitness - with the pace so fast, Little Bridge was well positioned but just had no dash," Shum said.
Connections of runner up Curren Chan plan to return to Hong Kong, where the mare was a good fifth in the Longines Hong Kong Sprint in 2011 behind Lucky Nine, while Lord Kanaloa is now a likely contender as well.