Disappointment and defeat during the 2015-16 season was countered by a spark of hope among the young guns that will carry the Bauhinia flag in years to come in Hong Kong.
Four of the six traditional international features were won by visitors, with Peniaphobia’s Longines Hong Kong Sprint win and Werther’s casual Audemars Piguet QE II Cup romp the only two bright spots for the home team.
Take Maurice (twice), A Shin Hikari, Highland Reel, and throw in Chautauqua, too, and their victories paint an unflattering picture of the local brigade – although the quality of the four December internationals and the three spring features cannot be denied.
For Hong Kong, it was more a case of what could have been rather than what actually was.
Able Friend promised plenty with a breathtaking return in the Premier Bowl, giving most of Hong Kong’s best sprinters plenty of weight, a massive head start and a beating that suggested he was the equal of any speedster on the planet.
However, bad luck and injury ruined the rest of his season, and the rising seven-year-old will have plenty to prove as he returns from a rare hoof ailment.
It was similar for Aerovelocity. He was abysmal in the Premier Bowl, with trainer Paul O’Sullivan playing a patient game and waiting for the new year.
It proved a wise move as he wassupreme in the Centenary Sprint Cup, extended to 1,200m this season, but colic ruled him out of a chance to retain his Takamatsunomiya Kinen crown in Japan.
Evergreen Rich Tapestry snared the Al Shindagha Sprint in Dubai, Hong Kong’s sole overseas victory, but Michael Chang Chun-wai’s galloper was poor in two further runs in the Middle East.
Hong Kong’s Dubai World Cup meeting raid came up short, with Peniaphobia the best performer with his third to Buffering, while Gun Pit’s tilt at the world’s richest race also faltered, finishing last after also he tailed off in Japan’s Champions Cup.
The loss of the Singapore May internationals hurt Hong Kong deeply, while even champion trainer John Size couldn’t succeed with Contentment finishing last in the Yasuda Kinen.
It was goodbye to Group One winners Lucky Nine, Dan Excel, Dominant, Luger and Thunder Fantasy, and while the likes of Military Attack, Blazing Speed, Designs On Rome and Gold-Fun are nearing the end of their careers, there is enough among this season’s classic crop and the rising four-year-olds to suggest 2016-17 can be more promising.
This season’s classics produced a raft of horses who will be competitive in Group Ones heading forward – Werther, Sun Jewellery, Victory Magic, Helene Paragon and Lucky Bubbles primarily – while Rapper Dragon already looks capable of taking on the big races, despite being six months from tackling the features against his own age group.
WATCH: 2016 Hong Kong Classic Cup highlights: Sun Jewellery continues his dominance in the four-year-old series
Of course, the majority of Hong Kong’s Group races will be open to international competition next season and it remains to be seen whether gallopers from abroad will be attracted to Sha Tin for big purses and a number of easy targets – especially among the staying races.