The mantle of Hong Kong’s best sprinter looks up for grabs ahead of the Chairman’s Sprint Prize next month after a messy Group Two Sprint Cup left more questions than answers and a controversial minor protest almost upstaged Mr Stunning’s graduation to the top level.
Just how much added competition from overseas will have to be met is an open question and the Group One on May 7 could turn out to be a re-run – with ageing Aerovelocity added – but the Sprint Cup showed there is no standout at present.
The Francis Lui Kin-wai-trained Lucky Bubbles (Brett Prebble) was a short-priced favourite but was caught wide before gamely hanging on for third in a run that had his jockey wondering if the gelding needs a break.
But he was also involved in two key pieces of interference, the first on the turn and the second around the 200m mark which saw him demoted to fifth after a successful protest by trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai on behalf of Blizzard, who dead-heated for fourth over the line.
Blizzard was targeting a tight run between Sun Jewellery and Lucky Bubbles and did not appear to have established himself in it when the gap narrow, jockey Nash Rawiller had to check and come out around Lucky Bubbles to finish off the race.
“We would say that, at the time, there was clear running for Blizzard to improve and we believe the side-on view shows that it was Blizzard’s run – he is three-quarters of a length behind Lucky Bubbles at the time,” chief steward Kim Kelly said.
“And looking at the manner in which the two horses finished the race off, we were comfortably satisfied that, had the interference not occurred, Blizzard would have beaten Lucky Bubbles.”
With Blizzard having dead-heated for fourth with Thewizardofoz, some racegoers were confused about what amendment would be made to the placings but Kelly explained that, under the rules, the horse losing an objection is placed immediately behind the horse which wins it, so Lucky Bubbles had to be placed behind both of the dead-heaters.
“He isn’t showing the kind of gate speed I want from him,” said Prebble, who was later suspended, but even more disappointed in Lucky Bubbles’ performance.
“It was a below par run. My feeling is that he is a bit jaded and if you were in Australia, you’d spell him. But you can’t do that here and you especially can’t do it with an international Group One looking you in the face.
“I’ll speak to Francis and maybe what we have to do is just give him a light prep leading into the Chairman’s Sprint and keep him fresh, because right now he feels flat.”
For the John Size-trained Mr Stunning, his long-awaited entry to stakes racing was a successful one after jockey Joao Moreira made an executive decision early in the race to take advantage of the four-year-old’s tactical versatility. The Magic Man took him back to last, railed up and only had to go around one horse, the leader Peniaphobia, before a cosy win while the others were playing dodgem cars.
“Going into the race, John and I thought he would be handy but in the circumstances I just decided to put him where he ended up,” Moreira said. “I think it was quite lucky. There was so much going on in the race in front of me and he was out of it, so it gave him a winning chance.”
Size too said the race had not happened quite as he had expected but one of Mr Stunning’s best assets is versatility.
“And that’s going to help him out now he’s playing in the big races,” Size said. “When they jumped and started to run today, Joao drew barrier five and was going to be four deep if he pushed up so probably the only option was to do what he did.
“Mr Stunning’s a horse who does his job well, whenever he’s in a position to win his race, he does win it more often than not. It doesn’t get any easier now but he’s done everything we’ve asked so far.”