A Class Four restricted race for three-year-olds might be the highlight of an otherwise dull day at Sha Tin and even though Sparkling Dragon deserves favouritism in the Granville Handicap (1,400m), the Michael Freedman-trained sprinter faces some interesting opposition.
Seven of Sunday’s 10 races are on the all-weather track but the three turf races include some exciting young gallopers.
Sparkling Dragon announced himself as a progressive type on debut with an upset victory over odds-on favourite Eighty Eighty over 1,200m on November 11 and returns three weeks later against his own age group.
Of course, Freedman’s charge must now deal with a rise in the ratings and will carry the top weight of 133 pounds.
There are some factors in his favour though, other than what seems a clear class edge, with a better barrier draw, three, and a step up in distance that should suit the free-moving son of O’Reilly.
Sparkling Dragon was able to lead from barrier 14 last start and control proceedings but jockey Sam Clipperton, who rides again on Sunday, suggested that the gelding would be even better ridden behind the speed.
“I was surprised at how fast he was able to jump,” he said after the race. “He had shown some good speed in his trials but the way he jumped and led them that easily was a bit unexpected. We had planned to go forward, but not necessarily lead.
“Being a first-starter, I knew he had already showed pace so I wasn’t trying to rev him up – it was a matter of keeping him calm more than anything – and he just did it on his own.
“When he starts facing better quality fields he will have to learn to sit in behind them, and with a bunny to chase he will improve again.”
From gate three, Clipperton gets an ideal opportunity to test his theory, with Sparkling Dragon in a perfect position to get a box-seat run.
The biggest threat to Sparkling Dragon could be David Hall’s Gallant Return, who ran an eye-catching race first-up at Happy Valley and now gets seven pounds off with Matthew Poon Ming-fai’s claim.
Gallant Return got a long way back over 1,200m last start and zipped home for second behind Phantom Falcon in what was the fastest final 400m sectional of the night.
The run was enough for Gallant Return to make The Post’s Black Book column and, as was pointed out there, the gelding has breeding and racing style to suggest 1,400m second-up is perfect.
In a race with a long tail, Win Beauty Win (Zac Purton) will have support after a last start win over the course and distance.
Unbeaten sprinter Hot King Prawn (Zac Purton) also returns second up and is drawn ideally in the Class Three Middle Handicap (1,000m).
Hot King Prawn is likely to start a long odds-on favourite after drawing barrier 14, from where Purton should be able to hug the grandstand-side rail throughout on the speedy three-year-old.
Purton has another chance on Hall’s sprinter Mr Genuine as the six-year-old switches to the Sha Tin dirt after a series of unlucky efforts at the city circuit.
Drawn a decent barrier, Mr Genuine could represent some value in a race containing plenty of proven dirt sprinters.
The first time Mr Genuine contested a dirt race he was pulled up after showing signs of lameness, before finishing eight after a long lay-off at his next start.
Purton gave Mr Genuine a quiet trial on the surface on November 21, but the gelding’s previous efforts in all-weather track trials indicate he handles the dirt well.