The HK$18.5 million Longines Hong Kong Sprint may have been weakened by notable absentees from both home and abroad, but it will be an even bunch of leading locals, headed by Jockey Club Sprint one-two Gold-Fun and Peniaphobia, attempting to defend Hong Kong’s honour against a small but select group of visiting sprinters.
Disappointingly, Aerovelocity isn’t there to defend his title – nor chase a possible US$1 million (HK$7.75 million) Global Sprint Challenge payday – due to an early season setback, and, just as sadly, Australian star Chautauqua isn’t one of the raiding party.
It was a race that was once dominated by locally trained speedsters, but chalking up a win for the locals in the Sprint doesn’t seem as straightforward these days – foreign-trained gallopers have won three of the last five editions, although two of them came courtesy of Japanese demigod Lord Kanaloa. There is no horse of the same stature among the 14 entrants this year, but Japan still offers a significant challenge with the first, second and fourth placegetters from the Sprinters Stakes in Straight Girl, Sakura Gospel and Mikki Isle.
Straight Girl was a surprise third at big odds a year ago, but returns in even better form for her career swansong, and contests a weaker race than in 2014.
A European-trained runner has never won the Sprint but Ed Lynam’s Sole Power came closest, at least in terms of placings, when he ran on for second behind a rampant Lord Kanaloa two years ago.
The eight-year-old has actually run in three Sprints, the first behind Lucky Nine in 2011, and while the local punters never seem to give the gelding any respect, Sole Power brings a couple of notable performances this year – he beat Peniaphobia in the Al Quoz Sprint in March, and although unconvincing last start, was a winner two starts back at home in Ireland.
Bringing more than just a great backstory and extravagant headwear will be the Mongolian Saturday team, with their sprinter boasting a last start Breeders’ Cup win on his resume. The American influence in the international races may have been lacking throughout the years but Wesley Ward, who has proven adept at travelling, brings Green Mask, third to Mongolian Saturday at Keeneland, with a knockout hope.
On the local front, Lucky Nine can’t be forgotten – he lines up in his sixth Sprint, four years after winning his first in 2011, and showed some signs of life with a fast-finishing fourth in the Jockey Club Sprint.
It looks a vulnerable home side though, with the Jockey Club Sprint trifecta – Gold-Fun, Peniaphobia and Not Listenin’tome – looking the main hopes of a group that lacks depth.
Michael Chang Chun-wai’s globetrotter Rich Tapestry may not be a visitor but will seem like one, the seven-year-old having his first run in Hong Kong in more than 18 months after winning in the United States, placing in Dubai and running creditably in Singapore and Japan.