There is likely to be at least one moment during the HK$10 million Chairman’s Sprint Prize where it looks like Chautauqua can’t win, but that is nothing new and the big-striding grey’s booming finish will be enough to take out what is the race of the season so far.
It will require nerves of steel from jockey Tommy Berry to get his mount home; Chautauqua boasts the most electrifying sprint in world racing, and although his type of exciting, come-from-last run pattern is rarely successful in a Group One sprint at Sha Tin, he finds a race with sufficient early speed to show his best.
Chautauqua’s fourth win at the top level a month ago in the Group One T J Smith Stakes at Randwick made the Team Hawkes-trained star the highest-ranked sprinter in the world, and while some have cast doubt over the strength of the opposition that day, the form has been franked since.
Third-placed English won a Group One two weeks later and yesterday runner-up Fell Swoop was impressive when winning a Group Two in Brisbane. Still, this is the true test of that world rating and by far the biggest challenge of Chautauqua’s career.
Racing overseas for the first time against a field featuring the four of the highest-ranked turf sprinters in the world, against a total of five Group One winners and a host of up-and-coming types from the traditionally strong local ranks, and it’s clear that Chautauqua has to overcome more than just what seems an unfavourable get-back style to win.
Travel seemed less of a concern on Tuesday when Chautauqua produced a phenomenal piece of work on the turf that brought to mind the pre-race exploits of dual Hong Kong Sprint winner Lord Kanaloa, and the five-year-old has continued to thrive since, looking comfortable in another lung-clearing gallop on Friday.
This is the first time the Chairman’s Sprint Prize has been open to all-comers and even though Australian-trained sprinters have failed to make an impact in the Hong Kong Sprint – in fact, none have won the race since it was switched to 1,200m in 2006 – none has arrived with the same fanfare or reputation as Chautauqua.
The established local stars look vulnerable: Aerovelocity returns from a horror trip to Japan looking less than his best, Peniaphobia will need to overcome the “Dubai hoodoo” and Gold-Fun was showing some signs of wear and tear last start, although he has been freshened since.
Yet what really boosts Chautauqua’s chances is the likelihood of a high-pressure race, with a barrier draw that has almost ensured early fireworks and a consistent speed throughout.
Drawn low in three, fellow Australian and last-start Group One winner Buffering will have to be bustled to hold a spot, but inside of him in two, Breeders’ Cup winner Mongolian Saturday could lead.
Peniaphobia won the 2015 Hong Kong Sprint after leading all the way from barrier 14, and even though there is a school of thought that says he is better ridden with a sit, there is little doubt that the afterburners will be lit early from gate eight.
The key could be two horses with horror draws – Not Listenin’tome from 12 and Aerovelocity from the widest gate, 14. Both generally sit in the first half of the field and it will take aggressive rides to find a suitable position.
Berry has spoken this week about not changing a winning formula and being lured into being closer in the run early, but what wouldn’t surprise is to see the horse dropped out early, but creeping into the race from the 600m and looking for a suitable trail into the straight – that is a tactic that has been more successful than turning last.
The X-factors in the race are three local horses untested at at this level, but all oozing potential – Thewizardofoz (Joao Moreira), Lucky Bubbles (Brett Prebble) and Amazing Kids (Nash Rawiller).
Thewizardofoz looked for all money like a Hong Kong Derby contender at one stage, but surprisingly didn’t stay the trip in the Hong Kong Classic Mile, and now comes back to sprinting off a three-month break and some top trials.
Lucky Bubbles was impressive when winning the Group Two Sprint Cup and could get the last shot from an inside draw which will allow Prebble to get a front row seat for what could be a messy home turn.
Mongolian Saturday is no guarantee to handle a right-hand bend after running off badly in December and showing few signs of improvement at trackwork this week, and Lucky Bubbles could end up with a saloon passage through.