Lucky Owners the Choice in Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Classic Mile

Two months ago Lucky Owners beat some of the world's best in the Hong Kong Mile (HK-I). On Sunday, his attention shifts to putting his Sha Tin-based peers to task in the HK$8 million Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Classic Mile (HK-I).

The 5-year-old Danehill colt holds an International Rating of 129 pounds, 17 more than his next rival, The Duke. Lucky Owners is the highest-rated runner ever to contest this race and, in short, his claims for an eighth win in 12 starts appear favorable. The New Zealand-bred Lucky Owners, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Leung Kai Fai, is out of the Kaapstad mare Miss Priority.

Considering trainer Tony Cruz's star defeated Bowman's Crossing and a potent Japanese trio including Lohengrin in the Hong Kong Mile on Dec. 14, he looks sure to be odds-on to win again and make a strong run at next month's Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby (HK-I).

"He's a serious worker. He's been working well for a long time," said jockey Felix Coetzee.

"He's in top form," said Cruz. "I'd just like to have a fast track for him and to have a good pace in the race."

He may well get his wish. The weather forecast calls for a dry conditions toward the end of the week. Forecasting the pace of race is only a little less hazardous than forecasting the weather, it would be a surprise if the race developed into a dawdle given the presence of on-pace runners Summerland, The Duke, and Beethoven.

The latter is the leading hope from three runners trained by David Hayes. Beethoven has long been touted a Derby contender. That opinion has not changed, but Hayes seems less sanguine his Zabeel gelding will win this race.

"I'm going there with low expectations but still hoping for a good result," he said. "Here we're taking on a world champion miler in Lucky Owners and it's going to be very tough to beat him."

Hayes added Ain't Here would appreciate the likely better ground this weekend over the muddy track he encountered in his last outing. Fed-up with a rear-end view of Silent Witness in the major sprints, he feels Planet Ruler deserves another chance over a mile, beaten only three-quarters of a length on his previous start at a mile.

Tiber, trained by John Moore, looked very exciting when he disposed of Bullish Luck (who has won since) by 3 1/2 lengths over a mile on Jan. 18. The mount of leading rider Douglas Whyte, the former British-trained Tiber will perhaps provide the sternest test of the favorite's mettle.

Tony Millard is double-handed thanks to Little Elephant and The Achiever. Like Hayes, Millard knows that his duo have plenty to find with Lucky Owners but is still counting on the uncertainty of racing to do him a favor.

"Look, we've all seen it many times before and we'll see it many times again: the best thing that ever looked through a bridle--and it gets beaten," he said.

Anthony Delpech rides The Achiever, stepping up to a mile for the first time in 15 starts. "He feels as if he will get the mile," the South African jockey said.

On the crest of a wave in his first season as a fully-fledged trainer, Caspar Fownes has declared a winning recruit from Australia, Perfect Partner, and The Duke, a Hong Kong International Sale purchase in 2001.

"The Duke has had a lot of racing but he's been coping it well and I think he's a good second or third-line chance," Fownes said. "Aside from Lucky Owners, he has as good a chance of any of winning some prize-money. Perfect Partner was impressive last time over 1400m and though he has a lot to find at the weights, I think he will run well.

Palette Natural, another 2002 sale graduate, will be ridden by Shane Dye instead of trainer John Size's stablemate Mighty Hugo. "He's the stronger closer of the two. At this stage of his career, this kind of race suits Palette Natural better," said Dye.

Size said of Mighty Hugo: "At set weights, he's a long way out on the ratings but if he runs well he may be considered for the Derby."

Ivan Allan, who won this race last year with 25/1 outsider Self Flit, will be represented by a pair likely to jump at even bigger prices: Summerland, placed in group I and II company in Europe, and Kingfield, a two-time winner in England in 2002. However, both have failed to reproduce that form in Hong Kong.

The Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Classic Mile (HK-I), HK$8,000,000, one mile, Sha Tin, Feb. 15, 4-year-olds only, 126 pounds.

Program No., Horse, Trainer, Jockey

1, Lucky Owners, Tony Cruz, Felix Coetzee
2, The Duke, C. Fownes, Christope Soumillon
3, Tiber, J. Moore, Douglas Whyte
4, Planet Ruler, D.A. Hayes, D. Dunn
5, Palette Natural, John Size, Shane Dye
6, Beethoven, D.A. Hayes, Gerald Mosse
7, Ain't Here, D.A. Hayes, Mick Kinane
8, Perfect Partner, C. Fownes, C. Williams
9, Summerland, Ivan Allen, A. Marcus
10, Mighty Hugo, John Size, G. Schofield
11, The Achiever, Tony Millard, Anthony Delpech
12, Little Elephant, Tony Millard, R. Fradd
13, Kingfield, Ivan Allan, T. Mundry