The Hong Kong Classic Mile is a well trod stepping stone to greatness but Sunday’s meeting at Sha Tin will also showcase two of Hong Kong racing’s brightest – and biggest – young talents when Pingwu Spark and Conte contest races on the undercard.
At a combined weight of more than 2,600 pounds, there is no missing Pingwu Spark – Hong Kong’s heaviest horse at more than 1,330 pounds – and the 1,280-plus pound Conte when they step on to the training track in the mornings, but the bulky duo are getting it done on race day as well.
Pingwu Spark has won four from five this season, the last victory a miraculous “get out of jail job” in a high-quality Class Two.
Conte has rumbled his way to a perfect three from three record with on-pace displays that suggest the big-striding son of Starcraft still has some upside.
Both horses face their biggest test on Sunday courtesy of ratings that have rocketed skyward.
Trainer Benno Yung Tin-pang has continued his patient approach with Pingwu Spark and waited more than a month to bring the grey back to the races for the Class Two Lung Kong Handicap (1,400m).
Leading local jockey Derek Leung Ka-chun returns from suspension to retain the ride but will have to deal with barrier 10.
Working hard from a wide gate contributed to Pingwu Spark’s only defeat this season, but even then the monster galloper was only beaten by a narrow margin, and perhaps some more room to move will be beneficial.
Last start, Pingwu Spark needed to show a surprising turn of foot to extricate himself from a jam in the straight, but this time Leung may be able to plot a smoother path home on the A course.
Last start’s trouble in running may have also saved Pingwu Spark at the handicaps, the narrow winning margin meaning he goes up just six points and scrapes into the extended ratings band race.
Word from the Yung camp is that Pingwu Spark has continued to thrive, as evidenced by a strong barrier trial alongside Classic Mile favourite Nothingilikemore last week.
The biggest danger could come from the bottom of the weights and barrier one in the form of John Moore’s untapped import Easy Go Easy Win (Joao Moreira), who will have 115 pounds on his back once Joao Moreira claims two pounds over.
Baba Mama (Karis Teetan) hasn’t won for more than a year but his excellent course and distance record and recent form indicate he is ready to break through soon.
John Size’s four-year-old Conte is at a less advanced stage of his development compared to the five-year-old Pingwu Spark, but has still shown glimpses of being a top-class competitor in the making.
Right now it seems as though Moreira hasn’t asked Conte to get out of third gear in his three races and Sunday’s Class Three South Wall Handicap (1,400m) looms as a sterner test.
Conte has won by two lengths at each of his starts while rising 26 ratings points – a significant increase – and this is the stage when many still-developing talents can suffer a first defeat against race-seasoned veterans.
It might be another four-year-old who poses the biggest threat though, with Frankie Lor Fu-chuen’s Simply Brilliant (Zac Purton) looking capable of a win.
Simply Brilliant could have run in the Classic Mile but Lor has decided against a four-year-old series campaign with Hong Kong’s first son of Frankel and a key gear change may help the talented type improve.
Simply Brilliant has been second at each of his three starts and never been beaten by more than half a length, but perhaps a crossed noseband can give Purton a touch more control of the hard-going chestnut.
On paper, it would seem Conte got the better of the barrier draw, coming up with gate four, while Simply Brilliant drew wide in 11.