Hong Kong’s champion sprinter Ivictory will attempt to put his season on track in the G3 Bauhinia Sprint Trophy Handicap (live on Sky Sports Racing) at Sha Tin on Sunday morning.
The five-year-old faces only five rivals in the straight track dash but two of those are among the pick of Hong Kong’s latest crop of rising speedsters, the exciting three-year-old Styling City and maturing talent Wishful Thinker.
Ivictory rifled through the grades early last year, with success in the G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize capping four straight wins, but jockey Joao Moreira admits that things have not gone so smoothly for John Size’s gelding this term.
“Lately Ivictory hasn’t been performing at his top but we all know he’s much better than what he’s been showing in his last few runs. He’s a very talented horse, he’s proven on the big stage and I think he’s in great shape to go out there and do his best,” he said.
Ivictory beats high-class rivals at Sha Tin last spring
Ivictory started the current campaign well enough, running a close second to stablemate Hot King Prawn in a course and distance G3. That effort, conceding 16lb to the classy grey, suggested the champ was set for another impressive campaign. Instead, the Australian-bred has since posted three below-par efforts, most recently when a fading sixth behind Mr Stunning in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m).
But Moreira is buoyed by a smart 1050m (dirt) barrier trial a week ago when, wearing blinkers, Ivictory burst away and made all to pass the post almost 10 lengths clear. This weekend he will wear the headgear for the first time in a race as he attempts to concede the best part of 20lb all round.
“He trialled really well, he bolted and I was impressed with that,” Size’s stable jockey said. “I think 1000 metres will suit him. John Size thought the blinkers would help to sharpen him up a bit more and keep him running all the way to the line; that happened in the trial and I’m very hopeful that we’ll see the same thing at the races.”
The Brazilian has a perfect four from four record on the Mossman gelding and is back in the plate for the first time since the bay booked his G1 ticket with a track record-setting Class 2 score over 1200m at Happy Valley in March. He is “confident” that Ivictory is approaching the kind of form that could extend their unbeaten partnership.
“His trial showed us that he’s improved since his last run and we’ll find out on the weekend if the blinkers have done the trick,” Moreira said.
Sprinters on the up
Sunday’s G3 represents the first big test of Styling City’s career. John Moore’s chestnut has barely put a foot wrong since debuting last April, winning five from seven, and heads into his clash with Ivictory on a four-timer.
The Starspangledbanner gelding overcame all sorts of traffic issues to defeat a field of smart Class 2 rivals down the straight last time and flew home late to edge stablemate Storm Signal by a short-head. Douglas Whyte has been in the plate for the chestnut’s last three starts and is shedding weight to ride the bottom-weight, whose rating of 94 puts him 12lb out of the handicap.
Styling City overcomes heavy traffic for his latest success
“Ivictory is a proven galloper and we’re now stepping up and we have to improve in order to be competitive. The fortunate thing is that he’s got a big weight allowance but he has to lift his game,” Whyte said.
The Richard Gibson-trained Wishful Thinker has won his latest two races since being fitted with blinkers, and last time clinched a first win over 1000m at his maiden attempt at the trip. Frenchman Alexis Badel is aiming for a hat-trick on the Australian import, rated 106 and the only horse besides Ivictory weighted within the frame of the handicap.
“The rating is good for me because I have a light weight, so hopefully that will help me catch the favourite. But Ivictory looks like a very strong horse and very fast, so it won’t be easy but my horse is in good form,” he said.
“Wishful Thinker is a lovely horse and he looks like he’s improving. He showed very good speed with the blinkers and he’s a talented horse.”