Lucky Nine forging clear in The Jockey Club SprintPICTURE: HKJC
Lucky Nine to the fore as Little Bridge struggles
Report: Hong Kong, Sunday
Sha Tin: The Jockey Club Sprint (Group 2) 6f, turf, 3yo+
LUCKY NINE (Caspar Fownes/Brett Prebble) looks the horse to beat again in the Longines Hong Kong Sprint next month after a gritty success in the race's final major trial at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Preparations for Royal Ascot winner Little Bridge, however, struck a major setback as he trailed in a lacklustre ninth of 14, beaten more than five lengths.
Defending champion Lucky Nine was deemed just "eighty five per cent fit" by trainer Fownes on his first start in Hong Kong for the season - he ran a strong fifth after missing the start badly in the Sprinters Stakes in Japan late in September - and was made work hard to fend off the late rush by Time After Time.
The latter, an Australian import trained by John Moore and ridden by Douglas Whyte, was checked at the start and had three lengths to make up on the winner at the top of the straight and it is to his credit that on his first run in Group company he made Lucky Nine scramble home by a head.
Admiration ran third, beaten one length, with Cerise Cherry in fourth.
However, Lucky Nine was carrying 5lbs for his Group 1 winner's penalty and, likely to benefit for this comeback run, he will most probably start a worthy favourite for the international sprint in three weeks time.
"It's always hard when we come back from Japan - the horses tend to lose their coats and go off the boil a little bit. He did the same again this year but he wasn't as bad as last season," said Fownes
"I felt he was just starting to come and today I reckon I had him about eighty five per cent fit, so there's quite a bit of improvement there for the big day."
"Brett gave him a good run, he was jogging on the corner and I think his condition gave out the last fifty metres but he was good enough to win it.
"It was a good run by the second horse [Time After Time] but in saying that, I feel in the next three weeks Lucky Nine's going to really come on for this run.
"He has a great record ‘third up' so I'm looking forward to December 9. I said to Brett, under no circumstances should he punish him, so he's going to come on a lot from that."
No explanation was tendered for Little Bridge's sub-par performance in the stewards' report, apart from jockey Zac Purton saying the King's Stand Stakes hero would "benefit greatly" for the outing.
For a horse that performs best fresh and has reportedly been diagnosed with a respiratory ailment - he is a now ‘roarer', although that has yet to be confirmed via the official channels - things suddenly look a lot less rosy for Little Bridge as regards the international meeting.