Late last season, Richard Gibson boasted that Akeed Mofeed would one day be the best horse in town; on Sunday that gutsy prediction edged a touch closer to reality when the stallion prospect lived up to his trainer's claim with a classy win in the Group Three Centenary Vase (1,800m) at Sha Tin.
Another test of where Akeed Mofeed sits in the open class pecking order comes against reigning Horse of the Year Military Attack in the Group One Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cup in just under three weeks, before a planned assault on the Dubai World Cup carnival late next month.
But winning rider Douglas Whyte said that the transformation from age-group champion to Group One Hong Kong Cup winner and on to fulfilling Gibson's expectations of being "best in town" was nearing completion.
"It was a ballsy quote from Richard at the time, but he knew what he was talking about because the horse has certainly improved, and kept improving," Whyte said. "The horse is so composed now mentally, once you get on him - he just takes over and instils so much confidence in you that it's just a matter of coming out of the gates and positioning him."
A "relieved" Gibson added: "He is starting to stamp his authority on Hong Kong racing and he is looking like we thought he would - like the absolute best in town."
A tilt at the Gold Cup means Akeed Mofeed will forgo a lead-up run in Dubai at the Super Saturday meeting on March 8. After the second leg of the triple crown, Gibson and owner Pan Sutong will decide whether the five-year-old contests the world's richest race, the US$10 million Dubai World Cup on March 30, or the US$5 million Dubai Duty Free over 1,800m on the same evening.
Gibson felt the effort was necessary from a fitness perspective for the 1,200-pound son of Dubawi, who needed hard work - and even the application of blinkers in trackwork - to bring him into top condition earlier this term. "I'm just happy I ran the horse, he really needed it from a training point of view," Gibson said.
Whyte said the more robust morning workouts had not only shed pounds, but had seemingly remedied the horse's other weakness - a tendency to overrace.
"He needs those sort of things to knock the edge off him and once that edge is knocked off, he is as kind as a kitten," Whyte said. "I am so glad we got that run under his belt for the Gold Cup. It wasn't a gut-buster, it is going to put some confidence into him."
Whyte felt he was further back than he wanted in the run as he trailed a genuine speed in a one-off position just worse than midfield, but as he looked for a lightweight to take him into the race, he instead hit the front "way too early" and was left vulnerable to a lightweight charging out of the pack in the form of John Moore-trained Ashkiyr (Mirco Demuro).
"We turned for home and suddenly in six strides I was in front, but what do you do? You are sitting last and you peel out and go click and suddenly you are in front," Whyte said. "I was following Dan Excel and I thought he would take me to at least the 150m, but he dropped away tamely. He had a good prick of the ears and I hoped nothing was running on."
Akeed Mofeed held a comfortable neck margin to Ashkiyr at the line, with Moore's Same World (Joao Moreira) and Dan Excel (Neil Callan) finishing third and fourth respectively.