Fifty Fifty and Pingwu Spark have plenty in common, both are big striding greys, late bloomers with Chinese trainers who have treated their prized acquisitions with extreme care, and both have burst on to the scene with a series of eye-catching performances this season.
The parallels don’t stop there – the two horses even suffered their first defeats of the season in the same race, Pingwu Spark finishing just ahead of Fifty Fifty in a memorable Class Two stoush when upset by Marvel Tribe last November.
Nearly four months later, the popular pair get a golden opportunity to establish themselves at Group One level in a wide-open Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Fifty Fifty’s trainer, Peter Ho Leung, and Pingwu Spark’s handler, Benno Yung Tin-pang, have taken a relatively cautious approach with the progression of their imports.
Both horses qualified off a solitary win on unheralded New Zealand tracks, just making it over the minimum rating, then ran encouraging seconds late last term, before reeling off successive wins this season that took their ratings well into triple figures by the turn of the year.
“The Chinese trainers are like the local jockeys, they don’t get the good horses that often, so when they do get one, they need to take care of them,” said Pingwu Spark’s jockey, Derek Leung Ka-chun.
“It’s harder for a Chinese trainer to convince an owner to spend the big money that some of the top horses cost. Benno hasn’t had that many opportunities but he can train and this is a chance to prove he can handle a good horse.”
Similarly, Fifty Fifty’s jockey, Karis Teetan, said Ho’s patience to hold the gelding back to just one start last term had paid off this time with a quick progression through the grades.
“Fifty Fifty is an important horse in Peter’s stable and, like Pingwu Spark, he has been finding the right races for the horse. It isn’t easy to get a good horse and you need to make the most of it,” Teetan said.
While Sunday’s HK$10 million race will represent a sharp jump from Class Two to Group One for Pingwu Spark, Fifty Fifty has already established his credentials at Group One level with a strong second to Seasons Bloom last time out in the Stewards’ Cup.
“We knew he was good, but he needed that test at Group One level and we really found out what he is made of. He loves a fight and the important part of that run was that he proved he belongs with those top horses,” Teetan said.
That was over a mile and even though Teetan believes that is probably Fifty Fifty’s best distance, he is still confident back at 1,400m.
“Two starts ago he was able to put Beat The Clock away at 1,400m in a Group Three,” he said. “So he has run some good races at 1,400m and many of his rivals are in the same situation, coming back in trip.”
Yung hasn’t had to stretch Pingwu Spark beyond 1,400m yet and the giant gelding – who at 1,330-plus pounds is officially Hong Kong’s heaviest horse in training – has won three on end at the trip heading into Sunday.
Pingwu Spark hasn’t raced since winning five weeks ago and was given a quiet trial last week in which he showed an ability to settle nicely behind the speed in a heat that contained five of the horses he will race on Sunday.
“That is important because it shows we can ride him in a different way if we have to,” Leung said. “He has been pushed forward and sat first or second in all of his races this season but you can’t always do that against Group One horses. He has to have different ways he can compete. I think he can be quite effective at closing off from behind the pace.”