Aethero and Hot King Prawn will command much of the attention when they face off again in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The only three-year-old in the field, Aethero will break from stall five and is carrying a good deal of stable confidence, with John Moore expecting his young gun to be hard to beat in a race that will be live on Sky Sports Racing.
He lost his chance last time out when missing the break in the Group Two Sprint Cup and then racing far too keenly for his own good.
The John Size-trained Hot King Prawn in contrast did little wrong, as Voyage Warrior trumped the big two at this track earlier in the month.
Adding extra spice is that title rivals Zac Purton (Aethero) and Joao Moreira (Hot King Prawn) are in the saddle. Moreira leads Purton by one heading into the weekend, with the pair standing on 104 and 103 winners respectively.
Moore believes his charge is in better shape than last time and compared his young speedster to the great Olympian Usain Bolt.
He said: “We did drop his weight off a little bit – he looks light enough anyway, he looks like what I’d call a Usain Bolt type in that he’s tall and lean with that perfect physique.
“That’s how I look at Aethero. He doesn’t look fat, but there could be a 20lb difference and you wouldn’t see it.”
Aethero’s last run was his first start since December and Purton believes that could have been a factor in the start.
He said: “He did something similar first-up this season so when he’s coming back fresh, I think maybe it does take him a little bit sometimes to switch back on – hopefully after his trial last week he’ll do it.
“He passed his trial so that was a good sign – he was just a little bit sluggish from the gate. The middle and latter parts of the trial were good, so I’m happy in that regard.”
Moore added: “He jumped out in the trial really well. He stood there perfectly so I don’t foresee any issues with the gate this time. I think he’ll jump straight to the front. I expect him to ping and get to the front. We might see the best of him.
“The feedback from Purton is never gushing. Zac is semi-positive and semi-negative, but the feedback was good – he said that trial was the first time he’d felt Aethero really get over the ground well.”
Moore will also be represented by Thanks Forever, who will be sporting first-time blinkers.
“I think he’s ready to win one of these Group One races,” Moore said. “If the favourites aren’t right on their game, he’ll be right there. And the blinkers just might do the trick.”
Hot King Prawn will race from stall one, and ‘Magic Man’ Moreira is full of hope the five-year-old can land a first Group One.
The Brazilian said: “Now is the time – I think he’s mature enough, although he might still have one more go next season, but I would say that he is at his prime at the moment and that’s one of the reasons why I’m going to the races with confidence.
“He’s been so consistent and he has proven himself to be a good horse and unfortunately a number of times he has bumped into better horses in some of the races.”
The grey closed off for second in a barrier trial behind Aethero recently on the Sha Tin dirt over 1050 metres.
“He feels great – the feeling he gave me suggests that there is nothing wrong with him,” Moreira said.
Size said: “He’s always pretty consistent at what he does – he doesn’t change much and he’s been strong for a few months now. He’s had a bit of racing this season, but hopefully he can stand up to it and he gets his chance here to win a big race.”
The Ricky Yiu-trained Voyage Warrior will bid to repeat his all-the-way Sprint Cup triumph.
His rider Vincent Ho said: “I think it was a big factor last time that he got to the front and it was difficult for them to chase me from behind that day. I think I got all the advantages – no one wanted to lead so I got a really soft lead.
“Because of the ground being wet, they couldn’t make it up and I think on normal ground it will be tougher.
“If he has improved, he’s still got ability to be there in the finish. He’s still young, he hasn’t been racing for a long time and if he has improved, his chance will of course be higher.”
Yiu added: “This Group One against the same company as last time will be very interesting because it might not be necessary to lead again.
“Before the last race, I didn’t tie down Vincent with instructions, but I’m still thinking whether or not there was a track bias last time, whether the cut in the ground was that big of a factor – but he’s kept on improving and we’ll find out on Sunday.”