Horse Racing
Blizzard’s demeanour and Yiu’s record raise optimism on Sprinters Stakes eve

By David Morgan in Tokyo
30/09/2017 12:18

Ricky Yiu admitted he is “optimistic” about Blizzard’s ability to scoop Sunday’s G1 Sprinters Stakes (1200m) after watching his charge work sweetly at Nakayama Racecourse this morning (Saturday, 30 September).

Blizzard stretches his legs at Nakayama Racecourse ahead of the Sprinters Stakes on Sunday.
Blizzard stretches his legs at Nakayama Racecourse ahead of the Sprinters Stakes on Sunday.

“He looks very happy, he looks better than when I saw him a couple of days ago. He was moving well this morning,” the trainer said, with the big race one day away.

The gelding broke into a canter as he entered the dirt track’s backstretch with the sun rising over his left flank, quickened his gait on the home turn and maintained a fluid medium pace up the steepest home straight in Japan.

“I’m happy – he’s very relaxed now that he’s got to know the place,” Yiu added.

The handler is eyeing a second victory in Japan’s big autumn sprint, one of only two G1 speed tests in the JRA calendar. Yiu carried the prize back to Sha Tin in 2010 when Ultra Fantasy led all the way to win under Alex Lai.

“Blizzard’s younger than Ultra Fantasy was and, ability-wise, he’s a better quality horse than Ultra Fantasy,” Yiu said.

The figures back that assertion. Ultra Fantasy carved a niche as a solid Class 1 and 2 galloper before a late career flourish took his Hong Kong domestic rating to 121 ahead of the Sprinters Stakes. Blizzard, on the other hand, went through Hong Kong’s Four-Year-Old Classic Series in 2016, running close skirmishes with subsequent Horse of the Year Werther: he continued to mix it with Hong Kong’s stars last term. The Starcraft gelding will go to post with a local rating two points higher than Ultra Fantasy’s pre-Sprinters Stakes mark.

Blizzard heads in off a one-race prep. The six-year-old hauled top-weight of 133lb to a fine second first-up in the Class 1 HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup Handicap (1200m) on 3 September. Ahead of him was Seasons Bloom, tipped to be a top miler this term and in receipt of 16lb.

Blizzard ran a gallant second on his seasonal reappearance in the Class 1 HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup earlier this month.

“This race, I think, is coming at the right time,” Yiu said. “He’s really matured and he has a better temperament than Ultra Fantasy, too. He’s been very easy to deal with.”

Tomorrow afternoon, Frenchman Gerald Mosse will be tasked with plotting a route to success from gate 12 of 16. Yiu is hoping horse and rider can achieve a sharp break and cross to a comfortable forward spot.

“A jockey like Mosse will overcome a situation from the draw,” Yiu said. “Breaking from 12 will put us more forward than we thought but actually he’ll have plenty of room from the outside, rather than inside where he might get stuck on the rail. It could help him – give him space to accelerate from the top of the straight.

And if Mosse finds that his lower-drawn rivals are vying to snag a lead at the break, Yiu does not expect the experienced pilot will engage in a scrap.

“He’ll still move forward – hopefully, if that happens, he’ll jump, then come across and travel midfield somewhere,” the trainer said.

Yiu is aiming to maintain a 100% win strike rate in Japan, Ultra Fantasy being his only previous starter in the country. But the trainer has plenty of experience travelling horses abroad – and winning, too. Not counting a handful of runners in Macau, Yiu’s nine overseas starters so far have notched four wins, the others being Sacred Kingdom in Singapore’s KrisFlyer International Sprint (2009), and in Dubai, Dynamic Blitz’s Al Shindagha Sprint (2011) and Amber Sky’s bullet triumph in the Al Quoz Sprint (2014).

Sunday’s rivals include last year’s winner Red Falx, returning fresh from a summer break after a good third when stretched to a mile in the G1 Yasuda Kinen in June.

G1 winner Big Arthur endured a blocked run when 12th as favourite in last year’s edition and will make his first start since December’s G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m). He was expected to return in the G2 Centaur Stakes at Hanshin on 1 September but a hoof problem put paid to that.

The horse that won the Centaur Stakes, the four-year-old Fine Needle, did so in a manner that suggests he might be on a trajectory to the very top. He will break from gate 13.

Others of note include this year’s G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1200m) victor Seiun Kosei, and Let’s Go Donki, second in that March sprint and a classic winner in her younger days.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club will simulcast Sunday’s Sprinters Stakes, scheduled to jump at 2.40pm Hong Kong time, during the 10-race Sha Tin card.