Saturday’s Class Two Cherry Handicap (1,400m) at Sha Tin is a tasty entrée to next month’s Classic Mile with three leading hopes – Fantastic Treasure, Blaze Warrior and Packing Victory – continuing their build-ups to the four-year-old series.
As well as being stand-out performers in their age group, the trio share something else in common – they are looking to bounce back from surprise last-start defeats.
After four wins and a second from his first five runs, the John Size-trained Blaze Warrior put in the worst showing of his fledgling career when rolled as an odds-on favourite a fortnight ago,
finishing eighth to Ima Single Man in this grade at this course and distance.
The son of Sebring didn’t have a lot of luck on that occasion, travelling three-wide throughout, and he failed to show the strong sprint in the straight that fans have become accustomed to.
The vets didn’t find an issue afterwards, neither could jockey Joao Moreira, and he’s trained on OK since, so connections will be hoping it was just an off day and that a better barrier draw – Blaze Warrior will jump from gate two – can help him produce his best.
It’s a similar story for Fantastic Treasure from the David Hayes yard, who saluted in all five of his starts last season before an eye-catching third over an unsuitable 1,200m first-up.
Like Blaze Warrior, Fantastic Treasure was sent out a short-priced favourite in the Class One Panasonic Cup (1,400m) and also put in a sub-par performance.
The son of Written Tycoon obtained a good position in transit but over-raced at times, before pulling out three-wide on the turn to get clear running.
But he didn’t quicken as expected, coming under pressure a long way out and only plodding home for ninth, three and a quarter lengths behind the winner Lucky Express.
But unlike Blaze Warrior there was an explanation, as there was substantial blood in his trachea in the post-race scope.
That was six weeks ago, with Hayes giving Fantastic Treasure a little break to recover from that race before building back up and hitting the line nicely in a recent Happy Valley trial.
With regular jockey Chad Schofield moving back to Australia, the in-form Blake Shinn takes the ride and he’ll start from right outside Blaze Warrior in barrier three.
Fantastic Treasure’s biggest challenge might be overcoming the top weight of 133 pounds – seven more than Blaze Warrior and 15 more than Packing Victory – so if he can finish close or even ahead of them, it bodes well for the Classic Mile where they will all carry 126 pounds.
At the other end of the scale is Danny Shum Chap-shing’s Packing Victory, who carries just 118 pounds in his first foray into Class Two after three wins and two seconds to start his career.
Last start was a nightmare for those who backed the Reliable Man gelding, with Christophe Soumillon trapped three-wide with no cover throughout.
But despite doing a mountain of extra work, Packing Victory still kicked for home in the straight only to be run down in the shadows of the post by outsider Navas Two.
Alexis Badel jumps aboard for this event and he’s halved his barrier – last start he had 12 and now he’s got six – so he should get a chance to atone.
Outside the four-year-olds, a horse who competed in last year’s Classic Series, Beauty Joy, might shape as the biggest danger.
Beauty Joy was undefeated in four starts in Australia when known as Talladega, but struggled last season in two runs for Hayes.
He’s since been switched to the Tony Cruz yard and looked a different horse first-up this season, winning a Class Three at this course and distance in impressive fashion.
That victory has cost him nine ratings points with Matthew Chadwick replacing the injured Zac Purton in the saddle.
Purton was also aboard Tempest Express for his last-start win and Size’s five-year-old must also be given some chance, despite drawing gate 11.