“Surely Sky Field doesn’t run in the Classic Mile now.”
That was the assessment of a prominent racing official after the last race at Sha Tin on Saturday.
There is no disgrace in being beaten by Mighty Giant – he is a genuinely good horse – but the bigger concern will be that he couldn’t run past Ballistic King, who is an honest campaigner, but nothing special.
After over-racing in his first two starts this season, Sky Field was on his best behaviour in the Class Two Argyle Handicap (1,400m). He had a lovely run in transit, sitting seventh on the rail and was only held up for a stride or two before finding a gap in the straight and finishing third.
Caspar Fownes’ super-talented gelding had every chance but didn’t seem to display the same turn of foot as he’d shown in his previous five starts.
It was his first time running over 1,400m, but to the eye, Sky Field looks better suited over the 1,200m.
There is always pressure on trainers to head towards the Classic Series with any four-year-old who has talent. They are races worth big money and you only get one shot at them.
But there is a dearth of top-end sprinters in Hong Kong at the moment and it might pay dividends to focus on races at the shorter end of the spectrum.
You could make the same argument for the John Size-trained Lucky Express, who looked the winnerhalfway up the straight but peaked on his run to finish fourth.
Speaking of distances, being a 1,400m specialist is a tricky gig for elite horses in Hong Kong.
There is only one Group One – the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup in February – so the majority of the time you have to either compete in races shorter than optimum or stretch out to the mile.
That could be the position Ricky Yiu Poon-fai finds himself in with Mighty Giant.
All six of his wins have come over 1,400m and he is now likely to find himself on a triple-figure rating.
Mighty Giant is as tough as they come – he has shown that in both wins this season – but he probably has to be tested at 1,600m to see if he is capable of heading to a race like the Hong Kong Mile.
One horse who caught the eye was the Tony Millard-trained Maximus.
The son of Ivawood hit the line nicely to run seventh in his Hong Kong debut, two and three-quarter lengths off Mighty Giant, and looks set to make his presence felt in the four-year-old series.
Maximus was undefeated in four races in Europe when known as Chares, winning a Listed race in France over a mile, so he should improve as he steps up in trip.
Saturday’s race was a corker and it looks set to be a good form reference going forward.
There was one other interesting aspect about the contest and it had nothing to do with the horses involved.
For the first time in 10 months, there was a real atmosphere at the track. It seemed as though all 3,730 people on course were outside watching the race from the stands.
There was a sense of normalcy about it and it bodes well for December’s Hong Kong International Races.
Fingers crossed everything keeps progressing in the right direction.