Hopefully the current conditions of clear blue skies continue until Sunday but it will be a “grey day” at Sha Tin regardless with the return of exciting sprinter Hot King Prawn and a mouth-watering clash between Fifty Fifty and Pingwu Spark.
The trio, all grey, are three of the rising stars of Hong Kong racing with many pundits expecting them to progress to the top ranks.
Hot King Prawn won two-from-two in restricted company late last season – both over Sha Tin’s 1,000m straight – the second of them a five-and-three-quarter-length romp in June.
John Size kept the then two-year-old in cotton wool after that victory and the son of Denman returns at three and a rating of 68 in the Class Three L’Oreal Paris Handicap (1,000m).
At first glance the rating seems reasonable – and even low compared to the amount of hype Hot King Prawn has received – but it is the same number of points (16) Pakistan Star went up for his solitary griffin win two seasons ago.
Hot King Prawn is the only three-year-old in the race and carrying weight against older horses is a challenge but barrier five adds another degree of difficulty to his task.
With the inside rail in the C + 3 configuration, the outside rail with be in the true position and Hot King Prawn will be forced to work across to what is considered by most to be the better ground.
Hot King Prawn is likely to go around an odds-on favourite and if looking to take the younger horse on, perhaps Super Junior (Derek Leung Ka-chun) is the best option.
Benno Yung Tin-pang’s course specialist is drawn 12 and comes off a total forgive run over the course and distance last start.
Drawn barrier one, Leung stayed out towards the inside rail, a rarity over the past five seasons, and the results seemingly confirmed that an outside rail bias still exists.
Drawn back closer to the grandstand Super Junior will be more competitive, while the other danger is last start winner Ace King (Karis Teetan).
The best match-up of many tantalising clashes on the day is Pingwu Spark (Leung) versus Fifty Fifty (Teetan) as greys each shoot for three straight wins to start this season in the Class Two Elizabeth Arden Handicap (1,400m).
Fifty Fifty was impressive in both of his starts this season, winning with something in hand and has the edge of previous experience at having won his only overseas start over 1,400m and then again easily last start at Sha Tin.
The barrier draw may have swung things further in favour of Fifty Fifty, with Peter Ho Leung’s five-year-old coming up with gate two and Pingwu Spark barrier 12.
The form around Pingwu Spark continues to stack up though, the horse he beat first up, Mythical Emperor has since won two straight. Then Southern Legend – the sprinter Pingwu Spark narrowly beat last start – won impressively at Happy Valley on Sunday.
This time Pingwu Spark will need to cross from the wide gate if Leung wants to have a similar prominent place in the run and he will probably have company with the rail out.
The race also marks the local debut of well-credentialed 2018 BMW Hong Kong Derby hopeful Sacred Elixir (Zac Purton).
Sacred Elixir arrives with a rating of 92, courtesy of Group One, Two and Three win, and Tony Cruz has chosen a trip short of the four-year-old’s best to start his preparation.
Still, with three trials and barrier one, Sacred Elixir could be among the placings.