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Lucky Nine all heart in Chairman's Sprint repeat; Rome has Designs on HK Derby

Lucky Nine missed the break, but recovered good position and became the first repeat winner since Silent Witness (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Lucky Nine's warrior spirit won out in a scintillating climax to Sunday's Chairman's Sprint Prize at Sha Tin, in which Hong Kong's champion sprinter showed class and grit in equal measure to clinch a second consecutive victory in the 1,200-meter contest.

The seven-year-old had not raced since finishing seventh in the Hong Kong Sprint on December 8, but had enough in the locker to hold off Charles the Great by a neck with race favorite Sterling City a further short-head third in a blanket finish.

Lucky Nine is the third horse to claim back-to-back wins since the race became a local Group 1 contest in 1992, following Mr Vitality (1995-96) and Silent Witness (2004-05).

"I'm very happy to get this result today; it really tested my training ability to get him here and I'm proud of my stable. We've worked hard and I'm happy that Brett (Prebble) has got the job done today," said trainer Caspar Fownes, who in the build-up to the race had expressed concerns about the prevailing cold weather for his stable star, who has a history of internal issues.

Lucky Nine was slowest away at the break, a scenario that has been his downfall at times in the past, but a crack of the whip from Brett Prebble soon had the Dubawi gelding racing handy in midfield, one berth off the rail.

"He's probably a jockey's nightmare -- a horse that misses the start in sprint races," said Prebble, the winning rider, after the gelding had scored in 1:09 1/5.

"A length given away is a length you've got to make up, so it's frustrating because he stands quite calm in the stalls. He's got into an awful habit that's going to hinder him and if he doesn't get out of it it's going to get harder. We got away with it today and it's a great thrill -- that's my sixth Group 1 on him."

As Bullish Friend led the 10 runners into the home stretch, Prebble began his move on the outer and asked Lucky Nine for his effort 350 meters out. Bullish Friend hung on doggedly under Zac Purton until Lucky Nine's famed determination took the defending champ to a narrow lead about 100 meters out. As Prebble drove his mount past the fading leader, Charles the Great and Sterling City on the inner, and fourth-placed Frederick Engels to his outer, pressed hard but to no avail.

"He'll improve on that, he didn't have a trial and he had two months in between runs, and it's proven that he's better when the weather's hotter," added Prebble. "He's got improvement in him and you'd love him to jump a length in front, wouldn't you?"

A delighted Fownes echoed those sentiments and now has the task of mulling over options at home and abroad for last year's KrisFlyer International Sprint winner, who also took the 2011 Hong Kong Sprint.

"I'll play it by ear at this stage," the trainer said. "He's been accepted for Dubai, he'll be entered to go to Japan on March 30, but there's a very good chance I might just stay here for the 1400-meter (Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup on March 16). I'll make that decision over the next couple of days and see how he is. The horse has still got a lot more improvement in him."

Prebble is of the opinion that, after clinching this second leg of the Hong Kong Speed Series, the third leg, the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup, would be right up Lucky Nine's street.

"I've always said this horse's best distance is 1,400 meters, and you've got one staring you in the face in your backyard, so it's a decision Caspar's got to ponder over for a few days," he said.

Designs on Rome turned the tables on stablemate Able Friend over the extra ground in the HK Classic Cup (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
In the day's other feature, John Moore continued his domination of the Hong Kong Four-Year-Old Series with a one-two-three in the Hong Kong Classic Cup, as Designs on Rome enhanced his Hong Kong Derby credentials under Tommy Berry.

"The Derby's on the horizon and it looks as though Designs on Rome should be winning that sort of race on his run today, because there's still a little bit more improvement, and if there is, he could be devastating," said Moore after watching the winner lead home Able Friend and third-placed Secret Sham for the stable.

"I'm over the moon. The ride was very tactical, it did test Able Friend's stamina and that's what won the race. I've had four and five runners in the Derby before but having these two horses going into the Derby, I would have to say is the pinnacle of my career."

Designs on Rome had played second fiddle by a half-length to his much lauded stablemate, Able Friend, in the opening leg of the series last month, the Hong Kong Classic Mile. This time over 1,800 meters, the positions were reversed with Designs on Rome superior by 1 1/2 lengths.

Berry utilized Designs on Rome's stamina to great effect. The Australian, having tracked the Joao Moreira-ridden Able Friend in midfield, took the race to his main rival a full 500 meters from home as he bustled his mount upsides. Moreira was forced to respond and the powerful red chestnut beneath him cruised to the lead past eventual fourth Dr Good Habit 350 meters out. But unlike in the Classic Mile, this time Able Friend was unable to assert his authority, and, as his run leveled out, Designs on Rome swept past.

"When I won on him on his last start last season, I said to John 'can I book my flight for the Derby now?' because I knew he was a Derby horse a long way out," Berry said. "As I said pre-race -- and I've had the pleasure of riding Able Friend, so I know what he's like -- make Able Friend have a long run, because he only has a 250 or 300-meter sprint. My bloke can sprint for about 600 meters -- well, he can sustain it for a lot longer. I got on my bike a bit early and made Joao press the button a bit early, which definitely won us the race.

"In the first 100 meters of the race I had Joao outside me and I just came back a bit and let him inside so I could follow him into the race, because obviously he was the only horse I wanted to be behind," Berry continued. "We just got going a bit early and I think Joao knew that. He got to the 100 meters and he was at his top, and my bloke, I love the way he pins his ears back and really finds the line. Onwards and upwards to the Derby now!"

Designs on Rome stopped the clock at 1:47 4/5, marginally inside standard, and the talented Holy Roman Emperor gelding posted the fastest final 800 meters, with a concluding 400-meter split of :21 3/5, making the Irish import the only runner to break :22. Third-placed Secret Sham was a full five lengths behind the winner.

"His last start, it looked like he was taking a fair bit of ground off Able Friend but I believe the last 100 meters that day he tied up, and John's very good at timing his horses for the big races so he still had plenty of improvement today. He pulled up and had a nice blow," Berry added.

Designs on Rome will attempt to become only the fourth winner of this race in the past 30 years to go on and win the 2,000-meter Hong Kong Derby, the third and final leg of the Hong Kong Four-Year-Old Series, should he line up as planned on March 16. Only Sound Print (1992), Johan Cruyff (1998) and Ambitious Dragon (2011) have completed the double.

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