Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) star Mongolian Saturday, who didn’t face any internationally-based rivals at Keeneland, will have the opportunity to earn his stripes against the world in Sunday’s Hong Kong Sprint (G1). Scheduled for 1:40 a.m. (EST), the about six-furlong test features a potent posse of locals headed by Gold-Fun and Peniaphobia along with Japan’s Straight Girl.
Mongolian Saturday upset the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at odds of 15-1, but he had been knocking on the door with near-misses in the Parx Dash (G3) and Turf Monster (G3). Moreover, this high-profile first stakes victory brought some tantalizing, if indirect, international form: the rallying third Green Mask had also been third to Hong Kong Sprint foes Sole Power and Peniaphobia in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1), while fifth-placer Undrafted was the hero of the Diamond Jubilee (G1) at Royal Ascot this summer.
The concern about Mongolian Saturday’s chances here is the fact that he’s got to last another half-furlong. As game as he was down the stretch at Keeneland, Lady Shipman was getting to him at the end of the 5 1/2-furlong Turf Sprint, as was Green Mask. Mongolian Saturday was one of the best stories of the whole Breeders’ Cup. It would be another epic ceremony if he can bring the Mongolian entourage into the Sha Tin winner’s circle. But it’s been a long time since he won over six furlongs, and I’m afraid that he’s going to get swallowed up in deep stretch.
Green Mask would have been an intriguing contender for Wesley Ward, based on his performances on World Cup night and in the Breeders’ Cup, both achieved at trips a bit short for him. But I’m leery of him in the wake of his foot bruise that popped up after Monday’s work. Ward sounded pleased with him when he returned to the track Thursday, and the Mizzen Mast gelding again stretched his legs Friday morning. At this point, he’ll probably be passed fit to race. Last-minute injury scares are never a good thing, though. And according to the South China Morning Post, he didn’t appear happy trying to negotiate the right-handed turn.
Moreover, foreign shippers have historically found it very difficult to topple a deep and ferociously talented pool of Hong Kong sprinters. The locals have won no fewer than 11 of 16 runnings, and in recent years, you needed a horse the caliber of Japan’s Lord Kanaloa and South Africa’s J J the Jet Plane to plunder the trophy. The prognostications are favorable for another Hong Kong-based winner.
Gold-Fun, once the circuit’s champion miler, has successfully reinvented himself as a sprinter. The Richard Gibson trainee rates the best of the locals. When he defeated the top two from the 2014 Hong Kong Sprint (Aerovelocity and Peniaphobia) in the February 15 Chairman’s Sprint Prize, it could be read as a changing of the guard. Indeed, Gold-Fun keeps beating Peniaphobia, most recently in the prep, the November 21 Jockey Club Sprint (G2) (pictured right). Deliberately allowed to carry some extra flesh that day, Gold-Fun promises to be even sharper for this main objective. And unlike a couple of his main opponents, he drew perfectly in post 6.
The Tony Cruz-trained Peniaphobia is no slouch. He’s had some excuses, and one of these days, things are going to go his way against Gold-Fun. Sunday might not be it, however, as he’s marooned on the far outside in post 14. An outside post cost him last time in the Jockey Club Sprint, for he hustled to the front, cut across, and expended a lot of energy early. But recall that Peniaphobia did overcome that same post in last year’s Jockey Club Sprint, when employing more conservative tactics. And he deserves extra credit for coming so close in the Hong Kong Sprint, when attempting to become the first three-year-old winner in race history. Although now a year older and wiser, Peniaphobia has found a bothersome rival in Gold-Fun. He’ll have to find a way to overturn the form, and his tactics of choice could hold the key.
Straight Girl (left) likewise turned in a terrific effort in defeat when trying to make history in the 2014 Hong Kong Sprint, rallying from post 13 for third. Before Thursday’s draw, I thought that she had a strong chance to become the race’s first female winner. But the Japanese shipper has been handed the same unfavorable post 13. Perhaps I’m overreacting to the draw. In principle, Straight Girl is a better proposition this time. Forget her uncharacteristic 13th in the Takamatusonomiya Kinen (G1) in March at Chukyo, where the rain-affected track was all against her. She produced an electric rally to get up in time in the Victoria Mile (G1), and after a warm-up fourth in the Centaur (G2) (in a blanket finish), she finished best of all to defeat males in the Sprinters (G1) in her latest. That’s evidence of her progression, since Straight Girl was second in the Sprinters en route to Hong Kong last year.
Her compatriots weren’t helped by the draw either, with Sprinters runner-up Sakura Gospel in 12 and close fourth Mikki Isle in 10. Seven-year-old Sakura Gospel hadn’t made an impact at the Group 1 level until the Sprinters. In contrast, Mikki Isle had scored in the 2014 NHK Mile (G1), just lasting after setting the pace. Connections have tried to persuade him to relax early, and shortening up to sprints has helped. He was beaten all of a half-length by Aerovelocity in the Takamatsunomiya, and about a length in the Sprinters. If he doesn’t overexert early, Mikki Isle has the raw talent to factor.
The final foreign hope, Ireland’s Sole Power, has compiled an enviable resume – two career victories in the Nunthorpe (G1) (2010 and 2014), back-to-back wins in the King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot (2013-14), and a Dubai breakthrough in the Al Quoz. But the rub is those are all five-furlong races. Winless from 11 tries over six, including three in this race, Sole Power was runner-up once – when pummeled by Lord Kanaloa in 2013. In a competitive-looking renewal, the Eddie Lynam veteran is equally tough to embrace and tough to ignore altogether.
I’m in a similar boat with one of the grand old campaigners on the local scene, Lucky Nine. A two-time Hong Kong champion in this division, he captured the 2011 Sprint and showed that he’s still got a spark when closing for a solid fourth to Gold-Fun in the recent prep. Yet the eight-year-old son of Dubawi hasn’t won since his repeat victory in the 2014 KrisFlyer International Sprint (G1).
Given the local talent, it would be no surprise if an upsetter were lurking somewhere in the ranks. The likeliest candidates are Not Listenin’tome and Strathmore (right), the respective third and sixth from the Jockey Club Sprint. Not Listenin’tome was twice a Group 1 runner-up in his native Australia, playing second fiddle to the vaunted Zoustar in the 2013 Coolmore Stud (G1) and just collared by Appearance in the 2014 Canterbury (G1) (where he gained revenge on Zoustar). After recovering from a serious illness, he made a splash with a pair of slashing stakes wins over this course, albeit in handicap conditions. The John Moore pupil has something to find at level weights, but he’s got an inside draw and Hugh Bowman. Strathmore, who had trouble at the start and in the stretch of the Jockey Club Sprint, still managed to finish an eye-catching sixth. The Tony Millard blueblood would surely have finished a lot closer with a halfway decent trip, and now he gets a rider switch to Ryan Moore. Two words: look out.
Rich Tapestry has proven himself on dirt and synthetic, with a victory over Goldencents in the 2014 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1) and placings in the past two runnings of the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1). He’s not been as effective on turf, as indicated by his sixth in the 2013 edition of this race. Off a five-month layoff in the Sprinters, though, he was an excellent sixth to Straight Girl. Could the old dog be learning new tricks?
Charles the Great, fifth as the defending champion in the Jockey Club Sprint, is an honest and genuine type with exotics claims. Dundonnell surprised stablemate Gold-Fun when the latter had a tough trip in the April 26 Sprint Cup, but that result is an outlier.
Photos courtesy of Hong Kong Jockey Club.
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