Xtension delivers a timely reminder for Hong Kong Mile
Xtension heads into Sunday's showcase meeting with impeccable credentials as the host city's big-occasion miler and he further underlined his claims to a third international Group One title.
Trainer John Moore gave the dual Champions Mile hero a stern workout on the Sha Tin turf track shortly before 7am but the handsome near-black stallion made light work of the task, completing 1,200 metres in the excellent time of 1 minute 16.2 seconds.
Xtension was ridden by Neil Callan and was accompanied by Class Two sprinter Charles The Great. They ran text-book "six furlongs", starting steadily and increasing the pace throughout, culminating in a sharp final 400m in 22.6 seconds, with the higher-rated performer ahead by three-quarters of a length.
Xtension missed his intended start to the season when small changes in his front fetlock joints showed up on X-ray on October 24. That meant he was a run short when he met fellow topliners Glorious Days and Ambitious Dragon in the Jockey Club Mile on November 18, and his fifth placing was, under the circumstances, full of merit.
Visually, Xtension has taken more improvement out of that race than either of his big-name rivals. He heads into the Mile with the formidable stats of nine starts at the Sha Tin 1,600-metre circuit for two wins, four seconds and a third, with both victories achieved at the highest level.
As good as they may have been, the visitors were unable to serve up a serious response to Xtension's gallop. Australia's sprint hope, Sea Siren, performed strongly in her solo spin but Xtension clearly took time honours.
Another Aussie, fairy-tale eight-year-old Alcopop, turned in a steady piece of work under Craig Williams, completing 1,400 metres in 1:39.25, the last 600 metres in 38.7 seconds. Williams permitted himself the liberty of slipping the Mackinnon Stakes winner an inch of rein over the final 200 metres and got the response he desired - a slick 11.21 seconds.
Reigning Hong Kong Vase hero Dunaden is back in town and outwardly, at least, the dual-hemisphere hero seems in comparable form. Williams also had the reins here as Dunaden worked 1,400m in 1:33.4, the last 400m in 23.9 and the final 200 in 11.67.
Saonois, winner of this year's Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby) at Chantilly, was held down to pacework for the majority of his 1,600 metre workout, getting on the clock for the final 400m in 27.4, the ultimate 200 in 12.6.
German visitor Feuerblitz made a good impression in his solo gallop on the turf track. The Italian Derby winner also went over 1,400m, clocking 1:37.2, the last 400 in 25.0 and the ultimate split in a steady 12.86.
Feuerblitz, only a three-year-old, brings some fascinating formlines to the Hong Kong Cup. Although the Derby Italiano (2,200m) only holds Group Two status, the colt has raced in European Group One company at each of his last five starts and been runner-up at his last three.