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Regiment spreadeagles field in Centenary Sprint Cup comeback

Jockey Olivier Doleuze celebrates Eagle Regiment's dynamic return from a nearly year-long layoff (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Eagle Regiment defied an almost one-year absence to become the latest in an elite roll call of back-to-back winners of Hong Kong's Group 1 Centenary Sprint Cup at Sha Tin on Sunday.

The Sha Tin straight-course specialist is the fifth horse in 15 years to achieve the feat, joining such luminaries as Silent Witness and Sacred Kingdom. The five-year-old broke awkwardly from post 13 but was soon traveling powerfully in the slipstream of the pacesetting Amber Sky, and when jockey Olivier Doleuze shook the reins at the halfway point, Eagle Regiment grasped the advantage and powered away for a 1 1/2-length verdict. 

"I'm very happy," said trainer Manfred Man, for whom this was a 300th career win. "I was confident, given his form in the mornings, that he would have a good chance, but almost one year off was another problem."

Man was left downhearted last March when the El Moxie gelding was scratched from the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai after succumbing to lameness, but the handler was rewarded for his patient approach to clinch the second top-flight success of his career, and has Dubai on his mind once more.

"He hurt his hind leg in Dubai, so we missed that race and when we got back to Hong Kong I asked the owner to give me enough time to rest the horse, so we just prepared for this race, and in the last few months we only trialed him," he said, adding, "we'll try to get him ready for Dubai again."

Doleuze was elated as he "whooped" past the winning post, whip aloft in salute to the horse's blistering return in :56 1/5 for about five furlongs on the good turf.

Eagle Regiment showed warp speed over his favorite course and distance (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
"I'm very happy and all credit to the staff, Manfred and his assistant Raymond do a very good job with this horse," said the Frenchman, who had partnered Eagle Regiment to victory 12 months earlier.

"It's never easy to come back after such a long time. He had a very good preparation, but even when we trial him it's hard to know how much there is. Today he showed me what I was expecting. He's a very different horse when you run him over 1,000 meters straight, and today was the best.

"Each trial I've been increasing his progression and the last trial I pushed him a little bit to put a little bit inside, but you always doubt when a horse has been off for so long," Doleuze continued, "but sprinters come to hand very fast, and when I trialed him last time he showed me he was there."

The jockey's biggest concern going into the race was how the now seven-time course and distance winner would break from the gate.

"The major part with this horse is not the race, it's to make him jump out of the gate," he stated. "He has a habit to jump a little bit awkward from the gate and that's the hardest part. After that it's so easy because a quality horse like that travels then is able to kick at the right time and maintain his acceleration.

"I'm more than happy -- he's the best horse I ride. I've ridden some very good horses in France, but he's one of the top."

Frederick Engels, a rising star in the sprint ranks this term, closed out from the tail to finish a solid runner-up under Weichong Marwing for trainer John Moore. Longshot Best Eleven was a further neck back in third, while Captain Sweet got up to edge the top-rated Lucky Nine for fourth.

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