John Size’s sprint domination can continue in Sunday’s Group Two Sprint Cup when Mr Stunning sets out to build on his own stellar season with a win in the HK$4 million feature.
Size has won five of the six Group races at 1,200m or less this season, Mr Stunning taking three of them with victory in the Group Two Premier Bowl, Group Two Jockey Club Sprint and Group One Hong Kong Sprint.
Not only does Size have top-end talent with his sprinters, he has unprecedented depth, with Size providing 13 of the 18 placegetters in those six sprint races.
Size still has emerging talents Ivictory and Hot King Prawn waiting in the wings and D B Pin is sidelined through injury, but heads into this race three-handed when Mr Stunning (Nash Rawiller) faces stablemates Beat The Clock (Joao Moreira) and Amazing Kids (Brett Prebble).
The master trainer’s horses look like filling the top three spots in betting, but it would seem the weight conditions and the history of this race – albeit a short history – are stacked against Mr Stunning.
In Hong Kong Group Two races, horses who have not won a Group One in the past 12 months are subject to a five-pound allowance.
These races create a fascinating contest between established top-liners giving weight away to not only up-and-coming talents but tough, exposed Group One placegetters.
Since the Sprint Cup started in 2008, only champion Sacred Kingdom has managed to carry top weight and win – and that was in the very first year of the race when he gave five pounds away to each of his seven rivals.
Since then not many horses have taken the challenge, especially since the schedule change saw the Sprint Cup shifted to create a lead-up to the Group One Chairman’s Sprint Prize in 2016.
It is a small sample size, but the race has been a minefield for horses carrying the extra five-pound impost, especially for favourites and with most starting single figures in betting.
Since Sacred Kingdom’s 2008 triumph, horses carrying 128 pounds in the race are zero for seven, including odds-on favourites Happy Zero at 1.9 in 2010 and Sacred Kingdom as 1.4 top pick in 2010.
In 2014, Lucky Nine was rolled as 3.6 favourite and the following year Gold-Fun (2.3) and Peniaphobia (4.6) went under as the top two picks in betting.
No horse has tried for the past two years, which doesn’t leave much of a pattern to go off really, and Mr Stunning’s International Day success four months ago means he gets the chance to buck the trend.
If taking a line through most recent performances, it would seem straightforward; Beat The Clock is the most favoured at the weights, having dead-heated with Mr Stunning at level weights in the Centenary Sprint Cup.
But as Size, the great sage he is, pointed out during the week when making a case for Mr Stunning; “racing is rarely that simple”.
Size made the point that early speed and ability to take a position in a race is crucial, and that tactically, perhaps Mr Stunning had more strings to his bow than the slightly less experienced Beat The Clock, and also Amazing Kids, who both tend to race better from back in the field.
Race position could make the difference here, but there is also the fact that Mr Stunning has had a chance to regather with a gap between runs after a more demanding early-season schedule.
Mr Stunning hasn’t raced since the Centenary Sprint Cup in late January, a race in which he was coming off what was arguably a career-best run to win his Group One, and has shown some great signs in two lead-up trials.
After the Centenary Sprint Cup, Beat The Clock endured a head-to-head clash with tough miler Beauty Generation over 1,400m at Group One level, so there is the chance that Mr Stunning heads into this race more ready for another near-peak performance than his stablemate.