More questions than answers after trial day for International Races
Few challenges laid down for December's showcase, with most of the favourites beaten
It was the moment for showing off the home team, the local defence that the foreign raiders will meet at the Longines Hong Kong International Races on December 8 but trial day on Sunday offered more questions than it answered, gave at least a little hope to any of the visitors and quite a bit of hope to some.
There were no statements made or chests beaten in hubris as two of the trial events came down to a photo finish and the other to a half length, and the biggest names were beaten in the Jockey Club Cup and the Jockey Club Sprint while only Gold-Fun held up the flag for favourites in the Jockey Club Mile.
Champion jockey Douglas Whyte said it best after the Sprint win by the John Moore-trained Charles The Great beating stablemate Sterling City, acknowledging the stocks have been higher in the past in a division Hong Kong has dominated.
"The form tells you that. Sterling City is really a 1,400-metre horse and Charles The Great is honest as the day is long and there to fill the spot if there are chinks in the others' armour," Whyte said. "I don't think the sprinters at this stage are the best, that's our weak link right now."
The Mile has been a source of hometown strength too and a short head in favour of Gold-Fun as he and Helene Spirit reprised their last meeting wasn't bothering trainer Richard Gibson and jockey Olivier Doleuze. "I had to under-train him and his body weight was up five kilos," said Gibson. "That will tighten him up again for the big one and it was a soft win, despite the margin - Ollie only hit him twice."
Doleuze made comparisons with former champion Good Ba Ba - time will tell if he was drawing too long a bow.
"Gold-Fun has won all three of his races this season and the only other horse I've had do that before going to the internationals was Good Ba Ba," he said.
Perhaps the most fearsome locals live in the 2,000m range with Military Attack and California Memory, but they were both upstaged by the younger Endowing and Akeed Mofeed.
Military Attack managed third after Moore admitted they might have got the tactics wrong, while California Memory was a run-on fourth. "I probably gave the wrong instructions in hindsight, especially considering our target is December 8," Moore said. "We should have been out the back with Akeed Mofeed. He's still the one to beat."
By contrast, winning trainer John Size wasn't making any promises he might not be able to keep with Endowing despite two wins on the bounce: "It's good that he keeps going up in company and winning but the two top-rated horses weren't in the finish. Maybe they'll do better next time and Endowing will have to improve again."