California Memory can continue to build his case for Horse of the Year in tomorrow's HK$8 million Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cup, with trainer Tony Cruz also eyeing an end-of-season trip to Tokyo now that the grey's joint soreness seems under control.
Wins in the Group Two Jockey Club Sprint and Group One Longines Hong Kong Cup have California Memory in pole position for this season's top honour, and the absence of one-time nemesis Ambitious Dragon will see the seven-year-old start a favourite.
"If he can win this he should be horse of the year," said Cruz, who has won the awards with Silent Witness (2003-04, 2004-05) and Bullish Luck (2005-06). "Like the horses I've had before, he is winning the big races and that's what counts."
California Memory has a superb record over 2,000m at Sha Tin. He has won four of eight, including the 2011 Hong Kong Gold Cup. But it was after a third in this race last season that joint soreness took its toll and California Memory's form tailed off, resulting in three subpar performances - two of them overseas.
Cruz then vowed to keep California Memory at home this term, but he believes he has found the secret to keeping the pint-sized gelding sound. Overseas targets are back on the agenda, with the Yasuda Kinen in early June now looming as a season-ending goal.
"I will consult with the owners, but I feel that would be an ideal race for him," said Cruz, who won the Group One mile with Bullish Luck in 2006, and finished third with Silent Witness in 2005.
"He's still got a bright future and hopefully plenty of racing ahead of him. Everything has gone to plan for this race - he has been working well and is in tip-top shape. We have worked out our way of preparing him and it seems to have eliminated his problems."
Cruz also saddles up last-start winner Pure Champion (Gerald Mosse) and long-shot Beauty Touch (Derek Leung Ka-chun).
"Pure Champion is in good form and in excellent shape as well, although this might be a bit long for him. He looks more and more like an 1,800m specialist, while this will obviously be a test for Beauty Touch," Cruz said.
Trainer Tony Millard revealed two-time reigning Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon, who won the Hong Kong Gold Cup last year, will be aimed at the Group One Queen's Silver Jubilee (1,400m) on March 17.