Time is ticking against veteran Sprint contender Joy and Fun
Joy And Fun might have time working against him on a couple of levels, namely being 10 years old and first-up for more than eight months, but trainer Derek Cruz insists he has his evergreen gelding in race shape ahead of a sixth straight international day event.
Cruz is well versed in bringing Joy And Fun back from long breaks. The horse has recovered from two injuries that are considered career-enders in most cases: a fractured wither in 2007 and a fractured near-foreleg at Royal Ascot three years later.
This time the lay-off is more by design and Cruz has not let his stable star get away on him. Getting gate one at yesterday's barrier draw also raised hopes Joy And Fun could go one better than his narrow second to Lucky Nine in the Hong Kong Sprint two years ago.
"He is in better shape than last season when he was fourth after a long break," Cruz said. "He will race at around the same body weight as he was in Dubai last start when he was second in a Group One. His coat has just come right and he is really flourishing.
"We knew what we did wrong last season. We just laid him off too long and he got fat very quickly. We were sharper with him this time and watched his feed closely. I expect him to run a big race. Although he is 10, he still has that heart, he is a fighter - they don't lose that."
Brett Doyle will fly in from his base in Bahrain to take the ride, the pair having combined for a Group One at the Englishman's last ride in Hong Kong in February last year.
"The only jockey that has ever really been able to get him to go over 1,200m is Brett Doyle," Cruz said. "He is a horse that can fight with you, but with Brett he relaxes and then gives him a kick. With that kick in the straight, he will be right in the finish, especially from that barrier."
Doyle has ridden Joy And Fun in 22 of his 58 starts for four wins and finished top four 13 times. "He has never run a bad race for me," Doyle said from his new base yesterday.
Doyle won last season's Bahrain jockeys' premiership easily with 41 winners, more than twice the next best, and the hoop said jokingly: "It is like being stable rider for John Size here. I've had trebles at the last two meetings.
"It's not Hong Kong, but it's a great job for me. I'm a retained rider, so it is stable and my family get well looked after."
Cruz also saddles up Cerise Cherry (Matthew Chadwick), who was first and fourth in his lead-up runs last year and ran second to Lord Kanaloa. The eight-year-old has the same lead-up form and drew even better than 12 months ago in gate three.
"He ran a nice race last time and hopefully he can do it again. But we've all got [Lord Kanaloa] to beat," Cruz said.