Mr Stunning and Beat The Clock will go head-to-head in the Gr.2 Sprint Cup (1200m) at
Sha Tin on Sunday, each vying for local bragging rights before facing international rivals in the Gr.1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) on FWD Champions Day three weeks later.
Champion jockey Zac Purton will have the race-ride on Mr Stunning for the first time at the weekend and he feels that the Frankie Lor-trained gelding’s main rival might be more suited to the small field of six.
“Beat The Clock, historically, has raced back in the field, and, in races with a larger number of horses, has had more ground to make up, so I think the smaller field probably plays into his hands a little bit,” Purton said.
There has been little between Hong Kong’s two highest-rated sprinters over the past 12 months: Beat The Clock made use of a 5lb weight concession for a neck success over Mr Stunning in this race last year; Mr Stunning reversed placings when second to Beat The Clock’s third next time in the 2018 Chairman’s Sprint Prize.
Mr Stunning confirmed superiority in December’s Gr.1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m), winning that race for a second time with his old rival third, but Beat The Clock gained the upper hand - by a neck - with a breakthrough Group One score in the Centenary Sprint Cup at the course and distance in January.
The John Size-trained Beat The Clock has since stepped out for a game second to Hong Kong’s all-conquering champion Beauty Generation in the Gr.1 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m).
“Unfortunately, there isn't a 1300-metre race for Beat The Clock because that is his distance,” jockey Joao Moreira said. “He’s been able to do it at 1200 metres before, beating some of the best horses in Hong Kong, so I don't think the drop back will do him any harm.”
Lor, meanwhile, has given Mr Stunning some relative down-time following his 20 January assignment.
“He’s had two months since his last race but he’s had two trials and I was happy with what he did,” the trainer said.
Purton was up top for the very first time in the second of those barrier trials and was a little perplexed by the experience.
“He was not what I was expecting,” the Australian said. “Every time I’ve seen him trial and race he’s a horse that has always travelled strongly on the bit and basically pulled himself to the leaders at about the furlong marker.
“But he was off the bit with me the whole trial - he never touched the bit, he never looked like getting on the bit, he never wanted to be on the bit. He was just floating along, so he didn’t do anything that was impressive. That confused me a little bit so I’ll have to wait and see what I get on race day and judge him on that.”
Lor, too, thought Mr Stunning’s last trial was not altogether normal.
“It was a little bit different last time because Zac has soft hands and the horse was more relaxed. We’ll see how he goes: he’s better with a lead and it looks like Manfred Man’s horse will go on in that race, and, if he does, Mr Stunning can relax behind him.”
Purton added: “He’s an ultra-consistent horse. He’s never let anyone down. He’s a good ride to pick up and, as I’ve touched on before, I haven’t had a sprinter of his level all season, so it’s nice to be on one that I know is going to be competitive.”
While Mr Stunning and Beat The Clock are the form standouts, Moreira is not underestimating Beat The Clock’s four other opponents - Rattan, Winner’s Way, Pingwu Spark and the Man-trained possible front-runner Handsome Bo Bo.
“Mr Stunning is the main rival but we always have to respect the other horses in the race,” the Brazilian said, adding that the gelding should benefit from the seven-week break since his last run.
“He has had a freshener,” he said, “he hasn’t raced for some time and that will do him a lot of good.”
Sunday’s card also features the Gr.2 Chairman’s Trophy (1600m) in which Beauty Generation will warm-up for an attempt at securing a second success in the Gr.1 FWD Champions Mile at Sha Tin on 28 April. -HKJC