RACING ROLLS ON AS HONG KONG SPORTING CALENDAR IS DECIMATED
If a Group 1 race is run behind closed doors with no one around to see it, does it make a sound?
That question will be asked and answered twice at Sha Tin on Sunday but the fact that only owners, trainers and jockeys will be on hand for one of Hong Kong racing's biggest days of the year is of secondary importance to the fact that the meeting is going ahead at all.
The threat of coronavirus has left racing as practically the only sporting game in town - with the Hong Kong Sevens joining the Hong Kong Marathon and Longines Masters Showjumping on an ever-growing casualty list this week - but officials are confident that it is reasonable for racing to continue with severe attendance measures in force and are taking steps to assist the wider community as the number of confirmed cases in the city passed the 50 mark.
The Club has taken delivery of a million medical masks with 80,000 and 250,000 earmarked for local hospitals and children from underprivileged families, while a special Emergency Fund will distribute £5m worth of protective supplies to local communities and another £2.3m worth of food and essential hygiene products to the disabled and homebound elderly.
CHAMPS SQUARE OFF FOR THIRD YEAR RUNNING
If ever a horse embodied the fluctuating fortunes of the city he represents it is surely Beauty Generation.
Invincible while his hometown was bouncing yet brittle once Hong Kong became vulnerable, John Moore's gelding has been beaten four times since October and bids to recapture former glories when he duels with leading sprinter Beat The Clock again in the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup (7f) at 7.20.
Some might say Sunday's £1m showdown is a straightforward case of Father Time tugging at a champion's tail. Beauty Generation dug deep to hold Beat The Clock two years ago and was in his dominant prime when extending the gap to a length and three quarters in 2019.
Twelve months on, Beat The Clock, fresh from two thrilling 6f wins, remains one of the most reliable elite performers around. Meanwhile, Beauty Generation has dipped below his career peak several times, including when worn down by Waikuku in the Stewards' Cup last month.
But Beat The Clock didn't have a lot in hand when beating Beauty Generation's stablemate Thanks Forever in the Centenary Sprint Cup. And Beauty Generation showed a fair measure of the old fire still burns when nailed close home by Waikuku in a strongly-run Stewards' Cup.
PACE AND PURTON THE KEY TO BEAUTY PROSPECTS
There's no question this represents a crucial fork in the road for Beauty Generation. Victory sets up the tantalising prospect of a clash with Almond Eye in the Dubai Turf, while a decisive defeat could signal the beginning of the end.
Previous Hong Kong greats Able Friend and Ambitious Dragon headed into retirement on the back of defeats in this race, but Beauty Generation didn't look ready for his pension three weeks ago and this has all the makings of a close encounter with tactics set to play a major role.
Beat The Clock confirmed that he can reel off closing splits of 22s or faster for fun in last month’s Centenary Sprint Cup. The front-running Beauty Generation doesn't seem able to do that nowadays but he found plenty off a true pace on his latest start and Zac Purton needs to ask his old ally to run hard enough through the middle sections to draw the sting from his main rival.
It's a classic head to head between the ageing strength miler and an exceptional year younger sprinter. Recency bias might tip the market in Beat The Clock's favour. But a canny ride and a little of that old fire might just tilt the scales towards the old champ once things get tough.
EXULTANT HARD TO OPPOSE IN HONG KONG GOLD CUP
When Exultant and Purton bring their best to Sha Tin, the rest of Hong Kong's 10f brigade are playing for places.
Tony Cruz's gelding has come a long way since finishing third in Churchill's Irish 2000 Guineas when known as Irishcorrespondent for Michael Halford and it's hard to know what will beat him as he bids to repeat last year's win in the Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup at 6.15.
Southern Legend finished second last year but hasn't peaked of late, while Time Warp became the first horse to break two minutes over 10f at Sha Tin on this day two years ago but isn't the same force nowadays.
Fellow British and Irish imports Glorious Dragon and Doctor Geoff chased Exultant home in the Centenary Vase three weeks ago but face a huge task now that they aren't receiving 20lb and 19lb, respectively.
Glorious Dragon, formerly known as Stephenson's Rocket for Ed Walker, has improved with every run of late and looks poised to go well at a fair price again.
But Cruz says Exultant "came out of his last run very good and feels much stronger than last year." A trip to Dubai for the Sheema Classic beckons and, given that Exultant is tactically versatile with plenty in hand on these terms, connections could be forgiven for scanning flight schedules already.
BRITISH IMPORTS SET TO MEET THEIR WATERLOO AGAINST WELLINGTON
Jamie Spencer returns to Hong Kong with a solid place chance on last year's Derby winner Furore against Exultant, while one of his former partners heads the weights for what promises to be an informative Citi Insurance Services Handicap at 8.25.
Harmony Spirit was known as Victory Day for William Haggas when swooping late under Spencer on Shergar Cup day but the Bated Breath gelding hasn't done enough in morning trials to suggest he's primed to defy stall 14 and a mark of 80 on his Douglas Whyte debut.
Impressive debut! 👀
Wellington coasts to an easy victory for @AlexisBadel & Richard Gibson. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/usx8s5zvd8
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 27, 2020
Lockheed also flies the Haggas flag in this £145,000 handicap and does so after an agonising miss over course and distance, but the former German Guineas runner-up is forced to give a stone to the highly impressive debut winner Wellington and that looks a tall order judged by the way Richard Gibson's gelding powered clear over course and distance four weeks ago.