Time analysis tells a different story
The close finish to last Saturday's Lantau Island Handicap for Class Two sprinters may have given the impression that the race was substandard, but a detailed analysis of the race shows the truth lies at the opposite end of the quality spectrum.
Winner Ultra Fantasy won the race by a short head in a four-way photo, but the winning time of 1:09.6 calculated out as being 0.1 seconds faster than standard after factoring out the speed of the track on the day. And that was surprisingly quick, given that the race was steadily run in the early and middle stages.
Of the major players here, Ultra Fantasy is perhaps the least likely to score next time. He had absolutely all the favours, with blinkers first time, a cheap transit and all the breaks coming his way precisely when Manoel Nunes wanted them.
For runner-up King Encosta, no such favours applied. He drew barrier 14 and jockey Gerald Mosse had no luck getting him across. He ultimately sat three deep outside the leaders for the entire journey and fought on bravely to go down by such a narrow margin.
This son of Encosta De Lago is trained by Tony Cruz and has built up a formidable record, with three wins from eight starts and never out of the first four.
Friendly Gains, a three-year-old from New Zealand, was a nose away in third after bouncing to the front and being left there when the riders of other runners were unwilling to take it up.
This impressive youngster was having only his second Hong Kong start and returned the same speed rating he had when third, beaten by three-quarters of a length, by Lucky Baby over 1,000m at Sha Tin on January 20.
Friendly Gains won two of his three starts as a juvenile in New Zealand before being beaten from a wide barrier in the Taranaki Classic, so there's little doubt he will be making amends in the near future.
The surprise of the race, at a distance [1,200m] well short of his optimum was the cheeky showing of the David Hall-trained Gallant Lion, ridden by Danny Nikolic. The former West Australian racer ran second to Supreme Class over 1,400m at Sha Tin in September and that had been his personal benchmark performance in his seven starts since his arrival from Perth.
However this effort, at his first outing for 62 days, saw him reach a new level of performance which could set him up perfectly for a race at 1,400 or 1,600m in the coming weeks.
Sanziro ran to his previous best speed rating figure (108) in finishing a close fifth under topweight of 133 pounds, while Oriental Magic caught the attention of video watchers - stipendiary stewards included - with his late-closing sixth.
As we said at the outset, the field might have been bunched at the finish but that said more about the tempo of the event than of its quality. The form should stand the test of time.