Lost among so many barrier draws on Thursday at Sha Tin for the Longines Hong Kong International Races was the one that promises to change the Hong Kong Sprint on Sunday.
French speedsters have yet to make any sort of dent over the years in the Sprint, largely a playground for Hong Kong locals and particularly Australian-breds, but the Francois Rohaut-trained Signs Of Blessing is probably going to have some influence on the event, win, lose or draw.
As John Size pointed out earlier this week, Hong Kong’s top-class sprint races this season have been stop-start affairs and it has been the case with the Hong Kong Sprint as well in recent years.
No winner has come from outside the first three in running since Lucky Nine six years ago, so Signs Of Blessing’s big run from the rear to finish less than two lengths away fifth in 2016, is a more telling pointer to his prospects this year than it might seem because he won’t be back there this time.
“Last year, we drew very wide so we had to take the horse back to the rear and he ran very well,” said Rohaut. “But that is not his style of racing. He is a fast horse and normally a front-runner and, from the better barrier draw this year, that’s how he will run.”
So, thoughts that Peniaphobia might roll up to a soft lead, like he did in winning the Sprint in 2015, require a rethink and so does Signs Of Blessing.
He turns up after finishing second-last in the Prix de l’Abbaye at Chantilly at his latest appearance but that was on a very wet track and Rohaut believes fans would do better to assess the six-year-old on his performance 12 months ago.
“We were happy with his final works in France before he flew out. He had a little bit of travel sickness when he first arrived in Hong Kong but now he is OK, he looks well and his work here has been fine,” Rohaut said.
“He is not the easiest to travel, he has always been difficult to handle, but is actually easy to train and gives his best in races.”
Any doubts about Signs Of Blessings condition were wiped away on Friday day, with our track watcher and former Post racing editor Murray Bell giving the French gelding a thumbs up after a bright 800m workout, with his final 200m in 11.54 seconds.
Race jockey Stephane Pasquier, who won a Group Two Sprint Cup at Sha Tin in 2015 on Dundonnell, was pleased with the workout: “He moved very well this morning and he kept straight and showed plenty of desire, all of which is very important with him.”