Sea Siren to give home team big fright in Hong Kong Sprint
Aussie mare threatens to break locals' monopoly on the Sprint with nine wins in past 10 years
Australian trainer John O'Shea may have the utmost respect for the locals, but yesterday he was still making a compelling case for Sea Siren in the Longines Hong Kong Sprint - and that was before the hulking mare backed up her handler's testimony with a terrific workout at Sha Tin.
The home team may have won nine of the past 10 Hong Kong Sprints - but a tough on-pace style combined with strong formlines and fitness, give Sea Siren an ominous look, especially against a local force that appears to lack depth.
"We're under no illusions as to the enormity of the task - but we've come here with a horse that is set for the race and we will be competitive," O'Shea said.
"The strength of the Hong Kong horses is now world-renowned, and we've got to come and play them on their home turf. But she's one of the better chances, and I wouldn't have brought her here if I didn't think she would be."
O'Shea's runner has been the most visually impressive of the visiting brigade to emerge from the quarantine stables. She looks bright in the coat, showing no signs of being weary from travel or a long preparation, and proved the engine inside the imposing frame is firing on all cylinders.
Setting off from the 1,200m on the course proper, with a work rider aboard and wearing her raceday gear of blinkers, Sea Siren allowed to slowly build up speed under a strong hold. Her last 600m was run in just over 37 seconds and she finished off her last 400m in 23.25. But it was the final furlong that pleased most, sprinting up the last section in 11.25 when given a slight squeeze.
"She looks happy and she pulled up great. She wouldn't have blown a candle out," O'Shea said. "To my eye that looked like great work. She'll probably do a bit more work on Thursday or Friday because she's doing so well.
"Like most people when they come here they have a good time and she is definitely having a good time. She has put on weight and is very, very happy. Her coat is great and her demeanour is fantastic so we're looking forward to Sunday."
Australian sprinters have earned a reputation as the best in the world, mainly by virtue of their performances at Royal Ascot, but it has been 11 years since a horse from Down Under has won the shortest of the international day features, and that was when the race was held over 1,000m.
Sea Siren faces a field made up 13 Asian-trained horses, with O'Shea praying for a good barrier from where his mare can make the most of her early speed.
"It's going to be imperative to draw well, because it is such an even field," he said. "She has got brilliant gate speed. It is a huge advantage on a bend because she puts herself into the race and she'll be in striking distance turning for home. She has got a good kick and she runs the six-furlong trip right out."
That ability to run a genuine 1,200m was on display in the morning work; most local sprinters are only asked to gallop from the 800m, but Sea Siren ran out a solid three-quarters of a mile. More evidence was her victory in the Doomben 10,000 over 1,350m - one of five wins around a right-hand turn. Some cut in the ground wouldn't harm her chances either as her last two wins have been on yielding tracks.
Sea Siren has been unplaced once in 10 starts - winning six times - but was upset in the Patinack Classic at Flemington last start, when Mental, a horse she had beaten at her previous start, peeled off her back at the end of the 1,200m straight race. It was a course where O'Shea believes his horse's early pace worked against her, leaving her vulnerable to a rival like Mental taking a trail.
"She was exposed there up the straight, the course isn't ideal for her," he said. "The winner came off her back and got the dream run in the race. I was happy with the performance. They cleared out from the others in what is traditionally a very strong race."
Times recorded by former Post racing editor Murray Bell