Jockey Nash Rawiller is confident that Mr Stunning can once again live up to his billing as the best horse in town in the G1 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m) at Sha Tin on Sunday (28 January), but the Australian rider also believes that there are a number of potential challengers to the throne among his seven rivals in the HK$10m feature.
Rawiller scored his most significant Hong Kong victory aboard the John Size-trained Mr Stunning in last month’s Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint (1200m). Since then, the 43-year-old has been aboard in two barrier trials on the Sha Tin dirt as the Exceed And Excel gelding has geared up for his latest target.
“I think he’s holding his form, he hasn’t missed a beat really,” Rawiller said at Sha Tin on Friday morning (26 January). “His first trial, he’d had what seemed a bit of a freshen-up – he hadn’t done a lot since the internationals – but he was nice and bright, jumped out and showed his normal sort of speed. The other day, he was a little bit more down to earth, he had the edge off him a little more but he still showed that speed and he towed me right to the line.
“He just seems a very happy horse, so he seems in the right frame of mind for Sunday. It just depends what has improved out of the internationals.”
In his three wins this season, Mr Stunning has had the measure of most of Sunday’s rivals. In fact, the only Centenary Sprint Cup runner the five-year-old is yet to face is his stablemate Beat The Clock, who makes his Group 1 debut.
Despite Mr Stunning having proven form against most of his opponents, Rawiller is pragmatic when assessing the race.
“You’ve got to be respectful for plenty of these horses, though,” Rawiller said. “I’m going in believing that I am on the best horse, but you’ve still got to have respect for your opposition. D B Pin was outstanding in the international and the unknown factor is Beat The Clock, he’s got a fair bit to prove to show that he’s up to Mr Stunning but he’s a good horse. And Francis Lui’s horse, Lucky Bubbles, he hasn’t had anything go his way all prep, either.”
That was a sentiment echoed by Lui, who is hoping that a “fair race” may allow Lucky Bubbles, fourth last time out in the Hong Kong Sprint, to repeat his set weights victory over Mr Stunning from last May, when the chestnut scored a first Group 1 win in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m).
“He was beaten fairly by Mr Stunning in the Premier Bowl, but he was first-up and Mr Stunning had already raced once,” Lui said. “The last two runs, just forget, he was very unlucky in the Jockey Club Sprint and even in the international, he didn’t have the best luck. He still wasn’t at his best though, I don’t know – maybe the inside draw didn’t suit him, there was nothing wrong but he was flat.”
In a bid to bring back Lucky Bubbles’ spark, Lui has added blinkers to his gear for the first time.
“He needed something I think, so we’ve gone for blinkers and a freshen,” Lui said. “I can’t put in another engine! He’s six years old and he doesn’t have much improvement, but maybe the blinkers can bring out a little bit more.
“We know that at his best, he can match Mr Stunning. We saw that last season. Lucky Bubbles is drawn in five, Mr Stunning is in four, so hopefully he can race alongside Mr Stunning throughout and they can have a fair race entering the straight. Then we can see if my horse can still match him.”
Jockey Hugh Bowman, who rode at the Karaka Million meeting in New Zealand on Saturday flew in to Hong Kong take the mount on Lucky Bubbles and Werther.