It was hard to miss the eye-catching run of Sacred Ibis last start and now the promising four-year-old steps up to a mile for the first time with a better draw in the Class Three Ambitious Dragon Handicap (1,600m).
After a sound debut last season Sacred Ibis has returned with two excellent wins, one at Happy Valley over 1,200m and another at the bigger track over 1,400m.
It was clear on both occasions that, in time, Sacred Ibis would need further but Paul O’Sullivan remained patient and kept the son of O’Reilly to 1,400m for start three.
A wide draw meant Karis Teetan was going to go back anyway, but when Sacred Ibis botched the start it meant he was a long last, detached from the field and chasing through the first 400m.
The leaders were going too fast early – Young Empire breaking 22 seconds from the 1,200m to 800m mark – and the on-pace horses were tiring badly at the finish.
That meant the finishing burst of Sacred Ibis was perhaps visually more impressive than it was in reality but the 22.28-second final 400m is still solid and he was clearly the horse to follow out of the race.
What makes Sacred Ibis so hard to beat on Sunday is the step up to the Sha Tin mile, where he will be able to take up a better race position, especially after drawing barrier three.
When Sacred Ibis drew barrier one over 1,200m at Happy Valley first-up this season Tommy Berry was able to use the barrier and have the horse better than midfield.
Barrier three on the B course should allow Teetan to find a similar spot even more comfortably given the race tempo will be slower than he has experienced before, provided the sluggish starts don’t become a habit.
The BMW Hong Kong Derby will come around too soon for the 64-rated Sacred Ibis but Sunday’s 1,800m Class Two is a chance for a host of other four-year-olds to push their credentials.
All five of the Derby entrants in theBullish Luck Handicap could have run in last weekend’s Hong Kong Classic Mile and a decision not to looks smart now after Nothingilikemore outclassed his rivals in the first leg of the four-year-old series.
Michael Freedman’s Cheerful Giggles (Brett Prebble) was initially entered for the Classic Mile but, concerned that his stayer would find that race too sharp, has gone for the easier option at a more suitable trip.
Freedman also puts blinkers on second-up, the same gear the gelding wore in his final three starts for former trainer Darren Weir, performances that included a second to Ruthven in the Queensland Derby.
Trainer Richard Gibson surprised many when he skipped the Classic Mile with Rattan (Chad Schofield), given that the son of Savabeel had won two of his last three at the course and distance.
Still, the fact the horse he was beaten by last start, Time To Celebrate, was beaten a long way in the Classic Mile probably indicates Gibson was right to dodge the big guns.
Now Rattan gets a test beyond 1,600m for the first time and the way he settled and then found the line last start, he could get the trip, but expect conservative tactics from a wide draw.
Earlier in the day, Chris So Wai-yin’s Eighty Eighty (Joao Moreira) will be out to avenge a narrow last start defeat when he contests the Class Four Armada Handicap (1,200m).
Eighty Eighty started an odds-on favourite at his first two starts and is unlucky not to have broken through already.
Eighty Eighty was trapped wide in the run first-up when second to subsequent winner Sparkling Dragon before the four-year-old was just edged out in a photo by Bossie last start.
Bossie is back again, this time with returning apprentice Jack Wong Ho-nam and his five-pound claim.
Wong hasn’t ridden since a fall in November and Bossie is one of two rides for the 24-year-old.