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Lucky Nine blitzes in Chairman's Sprint; It Has to Be You shocks Classic Cup

Lucky Nine could take another crack at the Dubai Golden Shaheen, in which he was third last year (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Lucky Nine showed the young pretender a clean pair of heels in the Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize at Sha Tin Sunday, as he swept to a convincing victory over a strong field of Hong Kong speedsters that included race favorite and emerging star four-year-old, Frederick Engels.

Caspar Fownes' charge returned to the form that had taken him to victory in the 2011 Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint as he notched a fourth top-level triumph on home turf to land the second leg of the Hong Kong Speed Series.

"It's a race I've been wanting to win for a while," the trainer said. "The horse has been a great horse for the stable and he deserves this win."

Lucky Nine, whose previous win this term came in the Group 2 Jockey Club Sprint in November, failed to fire over the straight five furlongs in last month's Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup, the first leg of the Hong Kong Speed Series and a race in which the John Moore-trained Frederick Engels was a fast-finishing second.

Sunday was a different story, though, as Brett Prebble settled the six-year-old in sixth on the outside of the nine-runner field, behind last year's victor Joy and Fun and one spot in front of the Weichong Marwing-ridden Frederick Engels. With the Sha Tin straight laid out before him, Prebble got first run on his main rival with a surging stretch drive that saw Lucky Nine quicken brilliantly, sweep aside the front runners to lead at the furlong pole and power through the wire.

Frederick Engels closed out strongly, his final 400-meter (about quarter-mile) sectional of :21.95 being the quickest of all and .07 faster than the winner, but try as he may, the four-year-old was unable to get on terms with Lucky Nine who scored by three-quarters of a length in a time of 1:09.28 for about six furlongs. The reliable Captain Sweet was the same distance back in third.

"He's jumped quite cleanly and I was going to take a more forward position than we did but he got a bit of interference early," Prebble said. "I had to take a pull back and I let him just enjoy his race.

"We didn't go that fast, so once I picked up my bridle and they started to sprint home, I really put the foot down before the 250 meters because I knew his stamina would kick in, more so than Frederick Engels, who's got a very sharp turn of foot -- I didn't want him getting upsides me and then have an explosive last furlong, so I've dragged him out a bit and it worked in my favor!"

Fownes has entered Lucky Nine for the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen on March 30, a race in which he ran a brave third from a bad gate last year, but the trainer may opt to aim him at the third and final leg of the Hong Kong Speed Series, the Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup at about seven furlongs at Sha Tin on March 17.

"I'll see how he comes out of this and the horse will tell me," Fownes said. "I'll talk to Doc (owner Dr. Chang Fuk To) during the week and if we go for Dubai then we won't go for the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup, that's for sure, but if we want to go for the 1,400 meters, we'll stay here. 

"We know that the straight 1,000 meters (that he raced over last time) is a specialists' track. He handles it but he's obviously a lot better around the turn and the six furlongs is a little bit sharp for him, but I've been sprinting him well and his ideal distance will probably be his next start if I decide to run him in the 1400 meters."

It Has to Be You scrambled the Hong Kong Derby picture (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Two races later, It Has to Be You sprang a shock in the second leg of the Hong Kong Four-Year-Old Series, the Group 1 Hong Kong Classic Cup.

John Size's charge was among a raft of horses overlooked in the betting behind a select group of star names, among them the Richard Gibson-trained pair of Gold-Fun and Akeed Mofeed who vied for favoritism in the minutes before the off, with fans ultimately siding with Gold-Fun, winner of last month's series first leg, the Group 1 Hong Kong Classic Mile. 

It Has to Be You had finished a commendable fifth in that metric mile contest last time after sitting close to a hot speed, but Sunday's about nine-furlong affair was a different beast entirely as first Crackerjack and then Best Show set a pedestrian tempo up front.

Tim Clark, for whom this was a first Hong Kong Group 1 victory, settled It Has to Be You midpack in the 14-runner field and enjoyed a smooth passage along the fence. When the pace increased down the stretch, the Volksraad gelding responded with a creeping rail run to close on the leaders, before finding a decisive turn of foot to lead a furlong out and hold off his late-swooping rivals. 

"His form hasn't been too bad and the other day in the Classic Mile he was the last horse standing of the horses up on the speed, going a pretty good gallop," Clark said. "All the horses that passed him came from back in the field. Today, from a good gate we were able to travel smoother and he showed a really good turn of foot.

"There's not a lot separating the horses and the barrier plays a role. Today I was fortunate to draw a low gate (2) and have a lovely run. My horse really attacked the gap when it came and put the race beyond doubt pretty quickly.

"It's a big achievement to win my first Group 1 in Hong Kong and it was the next thing to achieve here -- I'm really proud about how this season's gone."

It Has to Be You scored by three-quarters of a length in a time of 1:48.91 from another longshot, the Danny Shum-trained President Lincoln, who was a head to the good over the John Moore-trained Ashkiyr in third.

Size landed last year's Group 1 Hong Kong Derby with Fay Fay, and the trainer has no fears about It Has to Be You seeing out the about 1 1/4-mile showcase on March 17.

"I think he'll run further than 2000 meters -- we just don't have the races to try it," Hong Kong's champion trainer said. "In trackwork he bowls around the track like he'd go two laps, so we have no doubts about the distance. It's just a matter of getting up to the distance that will let him show his prowess as a racehorse and I think the 1,800 meters is the beginning of that.

"He's done nothing wrong since he's been in Hong Kong. He's been progressive every step of the way. The tempo didn't suit him last start and today he got more comfortable and was able to sprint in the finish."

Gold-Fun, forced to race wide after jumping from gate 13, closed out well, clocking :22.42 for the final about quarter-mile to claim fourth. Only President Lincoln and Akeed Mofeed went faster in the closing stages: Akeed Mofeed was keen early as he raced near the rear from gate 10 and ran home wide in 22.27 to be a 1 3/4-length sixth in a blanket finish for the minor spoils.

The March 17 Hong Kong Derby is the third and final leg of the Hong Kong Four-Year-Old series.

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