The return to racing at Happy Valley yesterday may have been fairly low-key but that didn't stop top trainer Tony Cruz emerging from the meeting dreaming of international Group One glory with Peniaphobia and Willie Cazals.
Cruz forecast last season that there were big things ahead at Group level for Peniaphobia and his win under five pound-claimer Alvin Ng Ka-chun yesterday did nothing to dissuade him of that view and the sprinter is targeting the Longines Hong Kong Sprint on December 14.
"We took the claim to get his weight down from 133 pounds just because this is still a young horse and I want to make his progress as easy as possible, so we took the weight off and Alvin gave him a great ride - he's won two from two on the horse," Cruz said. "But I've already told the owner that we have to start mixing with the big boys now in the serious races."
Cruz said he believes Peniaphobia needs more experience to fulfil that potential, but he will try to get that advancement by tackling a path to international day rather than avoiding it.
"I want him in the international, but he does have to prove that he belongs there," said Cruz. "His rating now will be high enough that we can put him up against the good ones and he can get a chance to prove himself. If he doesn't measure up right now, that's ok, because he will measure up later on but the intention is certainly to get him to the Hong Kong Sprint."
The precedent for Peniaphobia to make that jump from Class Two to Hong Kong Sprint belongs to John Moore-trained Inspiration six years ago. He won a similar race off a rating of 99 just four starts before his long-odds surprise on international day and he was already a five-year-old, while Peniaphobia is still three, turning four in January.
The young sprint find thwarted a huge plunge on Caspar Fownes-trained Imperial Champion, backed from $90 to $31 favourite, with Ng camping on the favourite's back to the turn then drawing clear in the run down the straight from a wall of horses for minor placings with two lengths covering the first nine home.
But Peniaphobia wasn't the only joy for Cruz, as 2013 Champions & Chater Cup runner-up Willie Cazals flashed up late for third in the other 1,650m Class Two won by Pleasure Gains (Zac Purton).
Willie Cazals had looked a strong Hong Kong Vase prospect 12 months ago, but suffered a bruised tendon getting out of the swimming pool, and missed most of the season with the injury. Cruz got him to the races only in time for two unsuitable assignments late last season but it looks like he is well and truly back on track now.
"We know 1,650m is too short for him but I'm very pleased with that," Cruz said. "Douglas Whyte said the horse felt great, and got a bit of interference or he would have run second. If the horse pulls up ok, he'll go to the Sa Sa Ladies' Purse, then the Jockey Club Cup and then hopefully into the Vase."
Plans for the winner Pleasure Gains though are probably not as ambitious, with trainer Manfred Man Ka-leung admitting the five-year-old had come to a difficult point in his career after seven wins from 16 starts.
"His rating was 104 today, now he will be 110, which means no races for him anymore at Happy Valley, where he seems to be at his best," Man said. "And I don't know if he's good enough to beat the good ones at Sha Tin, but we'll try to find a mile race and see."