Group One races are in Master Eight’s future – there is no doubt about that after he extended his unbeaten streak to five in Saturday’s Group Three Bauhinia Sprint Trophy (1,000m) – but just when that happens is still a point of discussion for trainer Frankie Lor Fu-chuen and jockey Joao Moreira.
The talented four-year-old continued his remarkable rise with a strong effort in his first Group race, accounting for proven performers like Super Wealthy, Computer Patch and Voyage Warrior down the Sha Tin straight.
Since making his debut in May, Master Eight has taken everything in his stride and progressed through the grades with aplomb. After beginning on a mark of 52, his rating will now be in excess of 100, which means he’s only eligible for Class One and Group contests.
The programme in Hong Kong is streamlined for horses at that level – there aren’t many options – so the only 1,000m or 1,200m event he is eligible for in the next two months is the Group One Centenary Sprint Cup on January 23.
That presents somewhat of a dilemma for Lor, who must determine if Master Eight is ready to tackle the city’s best sprinters at set weights or if he would benefit from a more patient approach.
The other layer to consider is the availability of Moreira – who has been aboard for all of Master Eight’s wins but has also been committed to the John Size-trained Courier Wonder, who is set to take part in the Centenary Sprint Cup.
So there are decisions to be made for all concerned and they will let the dust settle before coming to a conclusion.
“I think the horse can still improve. He will go up to a rating over 100, so we’ll be looking for a Group race for him next start,” Lor said.
“[The Centenary Sprint Cup is an option] but Joao also has some good sprinters, so I need to talk to him and talk to the owner before we make a decision.”
For his part, Moreira believes Master Eight can become Hong Kong’s best sprinter in time, but he’s not there just yet.
“He’s obviously improving and today was obviously his toughest test and he’s done what we’ve expected him to do – he’s a good horse,” the Brazilian said.
“We didn’t think he was going to get beaten and he’s proved that we are not wrong about that.
“He might not be the best horse, the best sprinting horse in Hong Kong at the moment, but he has everything to be that in the future.”
Perhaps enhancing Master Eight’s credentials is the fact he might be even better over 1,200m than he is over 1,000m, and he was still too good for some handy types on Saturday.
The son of Oamaru Force, who was a $1.30 favourite, got further back in transit than he’d ever done before but it didn’t seem to faze him, responding to the urgings of Moreira when it mattered to pick his way through the field and beat Sight Success ($9.30) by a half-length with Super Wealthy ($7.10) a further quarter-length back in third.
“Usually he leads or sits just behind the leader but today he was a bit further back – but he’s still learning. I think it’s good for him [to have versatility],” said Lor.
The win completed a double for the combination after the Magic Man piloted talented youngster Eason home in the Class Four Palm Handicap (1,200m).
“He’s still very green, so I’m hoping he can continue to improve. He’s a nice horse,” the trainer said.
It was a big day for the Lor stable, also winning the day’s other Group Three feature, the Chinese Club Challenge Cup with Healthy Happy.
The treble means the 55-year-old now has 34 winners for the campaign, holding a three-win lead over John Size in the race for the championship.