Eagle Regiment looks set to do battle on foreign soil
Sprinter needs a straight course, but good news is there are plenty of options if he can travel
Kudos to Manfred Man Ka-leung, Olivier Doleuze and everyone else involved in preparing Eagle Regiment to win the Centenary Sprint Cup after a year off the scene with injury.
That doesn't happen too often in Group One races and Man was surely being a little modest when he said the problem that kept Eagle Regiment out of the Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai had not been serious.
While the Centenary Sprint offered his best chance to return, it was not his first opportunity to run again if his issue really had not been serious.
Still, the comments of Doleuze after the race underlined a tricky future for the five-year-old, who is certainly going to have to travel overseas if connections want to run him more than two or three times a year.
At one stage, Hong Kong boasted three Group One straight races - the Hong Kong Sprint, the Bauhinia Sprint and the Centenary Cup - as well as two or three other lesser Group races over the straight 1,000m.
As the Jockey Club became sensitive to the waning appetite of foreign connections for an international up the straight, perceived as being too much of a specialist course, it altered the Hong Kong Sprint to 1,200m.
Then the major domestic sprint race treble moved from 1,000m twice and 1,200m to offering more variety in the current 1,000m-1,200m-1,400m layout with the upgrade of the Queen's Silver Jubilee to a Group One and the demotion of the Bauhinia Sprint to a lesser event.
A specialist straight-course sprinter is still in a better situation than a specialist all-weather horse, but not by a huge margin.
On the glass half full side, if Eagle Regiment can travel his form, then the overseas options are there to fill up his dance card.
The Al Quoz in Dubai is one target and the Global Sprint Challenge has straight-course 1,000m legs in the Lightning Stakes and King's Stand Stakes.
Though the Lightning in Melbourne comes up too quickly anyway - on February 18 - the Al Quoz and King's Stand are doable. For what it's worth, even the Prix de l'Abbaye is run on what is darn close to a straight course at Longchamps.
And you'd wonder if the need for straight races might even tempt connections to dabble with 1,200m as well. In Hong Kong, that means going to a bend, but overseas there are straight 1,200m options in the Golden Jubilee at Royal Ascot, the July Cup at Newmarket and the Patinack Farm Classic, though any race in Australia is less attractive due to the quarantine regulations.
Hong Kong's stocks for Dubai probably made a net improvement on Sunday, with Eagle Regiment's comeback, and Frederick Engels confirming his place among the top sprinters here and on target for a date with the Golden Shaheen.
Face value, Lucky Nine was a mild disappointment in the Centenary Sprint but, after the huge race he ran unsuited by a wide barrier on the Tapeta surface last year, the Caspar Fownes-trained gelding still looks a chance in the Golden Shaheen if he can draw a gate.
As usual the full list of entries seems to just dribble out from the Dubai authorities so we don't know what they'd be up against but many of the Hong Kong entries look to have been speculative or a plan B anyway.
Akeed Mofeed, for example, has an entry in both the World Cup and Duty Free, just 13 days after the BMW Hong Kong Derby, which is his real target.
But it seems that there could be as many as five sprinters to fly the flag in the desert across the two races, and David Ferraris has thrown in an interesting one in Liberator, searching for a chance to get back to his preferred 2,400m again in the Sheema Classic.