Hong Kong International 2009 preview
The 2009 flat racing season draws to its international climax on Sunday with the annual renewals of the Hong Kong races at Sha Tin and despite an obvious home advantage and a tremendous historic record in the Cathay Pacific sponsored races, Thursdays barrier draw wasn't at all kind to the local hopes with many leading fancies drawing high numbers, writes David Hood.
Having been a beaten favourite in the last two running's of ten furlong HK Cup, the tremendously popular Viva Pataca steps up this year to the twelve furlong HK Vase, and as if tackling the likes of Youmzain and Spanish Moon wasn't enough, he drew the widest stall of all in box thirteen for Sundays big race.
Jockey Darren Beadman still has high hopes for Viva Pataca, although he admitted the horse ran a little 'flat' last time out, but expects the move back to a mile and half to bring about an improved run from the current track record holder. William Hill reacted to the draw by easing out the seven year old to 10/3 from 3/1. There is a lot of local chatter about Thumbs Up in the race who may trade on the famous HK tote at a lot shorter price than Hills price of 10/1. Keiren Fallon is reunited with Youmzain, currently the 3/1 favourite, after finishing second to Sea The Stars in the Arc and is certain to run another big race, whilst Ryan Moore is bullish that Spanish Moon can land his second Group One of the year coming her from his fourth to Conduit in the Breeders' Cup Turf.
UK hopes of an upset in the Sprint were boosted when the Stanley Moore trained Total Gallery (Hills went 10/1 from 12/1) was drawn favorably in stall two and the well being of the Prix de l'Abbaye winner has caught the eye of track work judges in the mornings and brought a smile to jockey Johnny Murtagh on Thursday morning. But this is by far the hottest race of the series with favourite Sacred Kingdom (track record holder) hard to beat once again, and facing an awesome Australian and American challenge. Success for Kings Stand winner Scenic Blast would land a $1million bonus for winning on three continents in the Global Sprint Challenge, and is accompanied by fellow Aussies All Silent and Apache Cat, whilst the US sends Breeders Cup Turf Sprint winner California Flag and Wesley Ward's Cannonball to make the pace. Historically, the Americans have found themselves wanting at Sha Tin, often struggling to handle the sharp right-hand bends in contrast to their universal left-hand racing in the States.
As strong as the Sprint is this year, by contrast the HK Mile appears to lack depth in comparison to previous years. Favourite Good Ba Ba chases an historic third consecutive win in the race and has certainly had a light preparation for the attempt. At 11/8 he could be a stand out bet, because his nearest market rival, the seven-time sprint winner Happy Zero attempts both a mile and Group one for the first time. That said, his chance should not be lightly dismissed, with jockey Darren Beadman revealing this week that he has always thought the horse was 'screaming out' for a step up in trip and his easy defeat of Sacred Kingdom in November already gives him the scalp of a proven Group One horse. A multiple European challenge is headed by the Michael Jarvis trained Pressing who has won in Italy, Germany and Turkey this year, but could only finish tenth in this race a year ago and that may reflect why he is a 16/1 chance, whilst Confront could figure for Ryan Moore and Sir Michael Stoute.
A year ago Eagle Mountain landed some mighty wagers for the supporters of Mike de Kock's gelding in the Cathay Pacific Cup, but twelve months on and it's hard to find a fan for the horse who has reportedly been harder to train this year and hasn't impressed in his morning work. Collection could provide Darren Beadman with another big race success on the back of terrific trial success last time, but he'll have to be on top of his game to beat Prevsis, whom Luca Cumani sent to Hong Kong in April to scalp Viva Pataca in the Group One QEII Cup. Luca revealed this week that he expects the son of Sakhee to strip a lot fitter for his run behind Tranquil Tiger on Lingfield's Polytrack in November, whilst Mr. Dettori on the big priced Mr. Medici could belay his odds of 33/1 and fill the minor places after a series of good runs at Sha Tin this year.