A spectacularly good gallop on the dirt Dec. 12 made it clear that Doctor Dino will not relinquish his Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase (HK-I) crown on Dec. 14 without an almighty tussle.
Partnered by his regular work rider Eric Gandon, Doctor Dino stretched over the final 400m in 21.7 seconds and asked of his reaction, trainer Richard Gibson gave the assembled press corps the thumbs up.
Eagle Mountain, likely to start second favorite in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup (HK-I), cantered on the dirt and returned to the stables with a glowing report from his jockey.
“He's flying. He's got fresh legs and he will run a big race for sure,” trainer Kevin Shea said.
Shea was also on board his Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint (HK-I) mount, Mythical Flight, in a 22.5-second hit-out on the same surface but was a little less effusive about his prospects.
“The work was okay. I just think this horse is better over 1000m,” Shea remarked. “The one thing in the favor is that he will like the fast ground.”
British champion jockey Ryan Moore, who partners Sir Michael Stoute's Linngari in the Cup, gently breezed his mount on the all-weather in a final split and was perfectly pleased with the outcome.
“He was very good today. The ground might be a little faster than ideal but hopefully we will get into the frame. There are some very good horses in this race.”
Runner-up at this course and distance in the Audemars Piguet QEII Cup last April, Balius worked on the turf under Gerald Mosse, his rider in the Cup.
His regular work rider Maurice Richard confirmed his wellbeing saying “I think he's in the same form as back in April” as he watched a replay of the grade I feature at the International Handicappers' Conference.
Pat Smullen was reunited with Muhannak, his Breeders' Cup Marathon winner, in a half-speed gallop on the turf and the jockey professed himself content with the piece of work.
“He is in the same form now as he was when he won in California,” Smullen said. “He floated along the ground there. It's not really true to say that he's a horse for synthetic surfaces only because he wants good ground and I couldn't complain with the track here.
“This race is probably stronger than the Breeders' Cup but he's an improving horse and you always have a chance with a horse like that.”
Mores Wells (jockey Declan McDonogh on board), another Vase runner from Europe, worked on the turf track alongside his Japanese rival Jaguar Mail (jockey Mick Kinane on board) in a half-speed gallop. Trainer Kevin Prendergast was pleased with the progress of the former and said he had settled in well to his new environment.
“He has a fair chance if he can run up to his form when third to New Approach in the (Irish) Champion Stakes. I'd scratch his last run because the ground was bottomless that day and he had a touch of a virus after,” the veteran Irish handler said.
The top U.S. miler Kip Deville was last of the international horses out for a canter on the all weather track and with regular work rider Michelle Nevin on board again. The 2007 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. I) winner has looked in fine fettle all week and today was no different.
The complete fields for all four Dec. 14 Hong Kong International races at Sha Tin are listed below: