Trainer Paul O’Sullivan ended a frustrating run of seconds when Merrygowin snuck home on Sunday and Grade One can keep the winning run going when the young sprinter returns to the dirt on Wednesday night at Sha Tin.
Before Merrygowin’s last-gasp nose victory, O’Sullivan had gone nearly two months without a winner, his last success coming on New Year’s Day with Star Of Patch.
The New Zealand trainer not only suffered through a sequence of 15 meetings without a winner, but included 10 runner-up results, two of which were by agonising short-head margins.
Grade One was one of those narrow defeats when the three-year-old defied his long odds and nearly landed a 1,200m dirt sprint on debut only to be edged out by Bond Elegance.
It was an enormous run by Grade One, especially for a first-starter, the gelding sitting three-deep facing the breeze but battling on ferociously to the line.
Since then Grade One went to Happy Valley, with Zac Purton replacing Alexis Badel, and punters were all over the son of Manhattan Rain, sending him around 2.4 favourite.
Grade One was fifth, but not far away and with excuses, after the inexperienced galloper faced plenty of pressure before running out of gas late.
Purton pushed forward to lead, and even though the sectionals don’t look severe on paper, there was little chance to find rhythm as Grace Heart eyeballed him throughout after he had to work hard to cross.
Being beaten less than two lengths wasn’t a bad result in the end and now Grade One returns to a proven track and distance and undoubtedly better for his last-start experience.
The Class Four has attracted a relatively strong group of dirt specialists, although Grade One’s cause will be helped by main rival and possible favourite I’m The Won For U (Karis Teetan) drawing barrier one.
If Teetan can’t hold the lead, and it is unlikely he will with Oriondos drawn directly to his outside with 10-pound claimer Dylan Mo Hin-tung aboard, he is likely to find himself in an awkward position.
There could be fireworks early, especially if there is any hint of leader bias on the tight circuit, which there often can be, but Grade One can overcome whatever scenario presents from a middle draw.
Last time Sha Tin hosted an all-weather track meeting, Caspar Fownes put on a clinic and one of his four winners from that night, Born Dragon (Joao Moreira), returns with a great chance in the second section of the Peacock Handicap.
An all-dirt, eight-race card looks an absolute minefield for punters and while Class Five winners stepping up into Class Four don’t usually hold much appeal, Born Dragon seems well placed with a light weight.
Last time Born Dragon contested a Class Four over the course and distance he was rated a 2.6 chance and ran well for fifth – and that was when he was an unknown commodity on the track.
John Size isn’t necessarily known as a trainer who targets dirt races but the championship leader does have a good record on the AWT and has a couple of interesting runners.
Size has six winners on the surface this season; equal second behind Chris So Wai-yin with seven, and Works Of Art (Matthew Chadwick) and Arizona Blizzard (Moreira) both look decent chances.
With blinkers on first time and also trying dirt first time, Works Of Art looks an interesting proposition in what is a soft 1,800m.
At the very least, the four-year-old will represent some value with the unknown factor of track and distance, and unusual trainer-jockey combo leading punters elsewhere.
Stepping up in distance with blinkers on isn’t the most appealing combination either but, as is often said, “in Size we trust”.
Works Of Art is running consistently and handles the surface in trials, and the Spoonbill Handicap doesn’t look a tough race.
All-weather track racing is all about clear running and momentum, neither of which Arizona Blizzard had last start, and a better draw should help the five-year-old in the Flamingo Handicap.