Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Preview: Hong Kong Sprint

Yesterday we began our week-long preview of the International races that'll take place in Hong Kong with the Mile and today we'll cover the Sprint. 

Last year, this was the only of the four International races which wasn't won by the home team, as Japan's superstar sprinter Lord Kanaloa won the race for the second straight year. He has since retired and it's left us with a fairly wide open affair. 

Lucky Nine won this race in 2011, but has since finished fifth and seventh. He's had one run coming into this, which is fairly normal for him, but at seven-years-old I wonder if he's still truly competitive as a win threat against younger, up-and-coming horses. He tends to be popular with Hong Kong punters, as he hasn't gone off at double digit win odds since 2012 and I honestly just don't see how a horse who seems to routinely peak later in the season can be used at a short price here. 

Aerovelocity has been a horse on the rise for quite some time now. Last year, he racked up five wins in seven starts and he kicked off this year with a win in the Hong Kong Group 2 Premier Bowl. He garnered quite a bit of praise due to the manner in which he won the race given that he missed the start and absolutely rocketed home late to get up over pacesetter Super Jockey. Visually, it was impressive, but there's no doubt in my mind that he was ultimately aided by missing that start given he had a wide draw, but after jumping out of the gate, was allowed to save ground along the rail the entire way. While he may have had a perfect trip there, he had anything but last time out when he was in extremely tight along the rail late and was steadied. We'll know more after the draw, but the pace initially looks as if it could be fast early, which you'd think would hinder the six-time course and distance winner. 

Perhaps the home team's strongest competitor comes in the form of Peniaphobia, a three-year-old son of Dandy Man who has rocketed up the Hong Kong ranks in the past year. He enters here having won two straight at this distance, the most recent of which was very impressive given he was wide throughout the run. He has a versatile running style, but in this sort of a race especially, you'd hope he'd be held up early instead of trying to get cute up front with Buffering. No three-year-old has ever won this race, but nobody looked better to my eye in recent trackwork either. Big chance. 

Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Sterling City enters here as a bit of an enigma. As well as he won that race, he hasn't found himself in the winner's circle since and on paper looks as if he doesn't enter here in good form. And while he didn't run particularly well in his second up appearance, he definitely looked like he was stiffed in his most recent run. He should run better than we've seen of him recently on this big occasion and depending on where he's drawn, the race shape could set up nicely for him if they go at a good tempo at the start. 

Local runners Smart Volatility and Flagship Shine ran second and third respectively behind Peniaphobia in their most recent start. Flagship Shine had been struggling over further before cutting back to 1200m, but I wonder if this will be a bit on the sharp side and whether 1400m is truly his ideal distance. Smart Volatility hasn't won since February, but has run consistently well this season without winning. Both of these perhaps aren't win threats, but have enough upside to warrant place chances if drawn alright. 

Singapore's star Spalato was undefeated in six starts before losing in the G2 Jockey Club Sprint. He was drawn horribly there and I'd expect an improved effort if he gets any sort of a decent draw this time around and his running style would be suited if they do go quick early as he can sit in behind the leaders and take over when the pace collapses, as he's done in the past. 

Of the other shippers, on paper Sole Power, Horse Racing Ireland's Horse of the Year, looks a top contender. A winner of three Group 1s in England this season, including the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, he looked every bit the best 5f sprinter in Europe over the summer, but after struggling in the Group 1 Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp, I wonder if he's over the top. Distance isn't a concern here as this is a flat six furlongs (compared to the undulating five furlongs he often sees in England) and he was the runner-up here last year, but he'll need to be up to his typical standard in order to make the frame this time around. 

Globetrotter Gordon Lord Byron began his season in Australia before heading to England, Ireland, and France. Now, he finds himself in Hong Kong to cap off what has been a fine season for the six-year-old who won his most recent start in the Group 2 British Champions Sprint Stakes, which was over heavy ground at Ascot. He's run well enough over quicker ground like he'll see here, but I do think he much prefers at bit of cut in the ground over this short of a distance (he often runs over further), so for that reason, I don't see him as a win threat. 

Australia's hope Buffering won his first start of this season over a sub-par Lankan Rupee, but he hasn't done much since and was a soundly beaten fourth most recently. Add to that he's reportedly suffering from a hoof abscess and even if he's perfectly fine on the day of the race, he clearly looks one to avoid betting-wise. His inclusion in the race will be important though, as he'll be the likely pacesetter and should ensure a good tempo out front. 

Lastly we'll give mention to the grey, Snow Dragon, who enters here coming off the biggest win of his career in the G1 Sprinters Stakes. He's typically held up, has a big finishing kick, and should be suited by the pace scenario. He fits in this spot and given he should get the proper setup, he rates a winning chance. 

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