A perfect barrier has Mr Stunning poised to deliver nine-time champion trainer John Size his first victory in the Longines Hong Kong Sprint and jockey Nash Rawiller his first Group One at Sha Tin.
With two gates remaining – four and 12 – it was either going to be feast or famine for Rawiller, but he strolled up to the stage during Thursday’s draw and plucked the former, which is probably the one he would have chosen if he had the pick of the lot.
Mr Stunning has established himself as Hong Kong’s highest-rated horse and comes into the race in terrific condition after wins in the Premier Bowl and Jockey Club Sprint, both at Group Two level.
He jumped from the outside alley last start, covered extra ground in a stop-start race and still saluted with a leg in the air. It should be much easier today.
From the barrier, the game plan appears pretty simple – settle just behind the speed, one-off the fence before pulling out at the top of the straight and going bang.
The pace is likely to come from 2015 champ Peniaphobia and Japanese filly Once In A Moon, who led in the Sprinters Stakes, while the connections of French speedster Signs Of Blessing have said they will also push forward after going back and flashing home for fifth in last year’s renewal.
How fast they go won’t worry Mr Stunning as he has the versatility to settle a bit closer if they go slow or a bit further back if they go quickly.
It’s a similar story for his main danger, the Francis Lui Kin-wai-trained Lucky Bubbles. The last time Hugh Bowman was aboard, he settled in the box seat and took out the Group One Chairman’s Sprint Prize in May.
That should be the plan again after drawing barrier one, because if he gets too far back he could find himself buried on the rail with nowhere to go – much like he did in his luckless run in the lead-up race last month.
There’s no questioning his ability, but Lucky Bubbles is a horse who can find trouble. He has won just one of his past seven, while starting 3.6 or shorter on each occasion. He probably should have won this race last year.
The other horse who could spring an upset is Thewizardofoz (Joao Moreira), who has the talent but has proven to be better over 1,400m. If he gets a fast-run race, he is capable of launching a booming sprint from the back of the field.
The local runners, and in particular the Size quartet (he also has Amazing Kids and D B Pin), appear to have a stranglehold on the HK$18.5 million feature, with Signs Of Blessing looking set to be the best-performing international.