Pingwu Spark wins a Class 2 at the course and distance last time.
©Hong Kong Jockey Club
By David Morgan
Pingwu Spark is one of Hong Kong’s buzz horses right now and the hulking grey will attempt to further enhance his burgeoning profile in Sunday’s (17 December) finale at Sha Tin racecourse.
Benno Yung’s charge has raced to three wins and two second placings in his five Hong Kong starts. That record has seen his rating rise from 70 on debut in June to its current 97 for a half-length victory last time over the re-opposing Doctor Geoff (122lb), a smart young prospect from the Tony Cruz stable.
Throw into the mix Australian G2 winner and Hong Kong debutant Good Standing (126lb) and the Class 2 Lukfook Jewellery Beloved Collection Handicap (1400m) has the look of a contest that could hold clues to future big-race outcomes.
“Pingwu Spark is facing strong competitors and he has the top-weight, but he’s continued to improve and this time he has a good draw (six) so he has a good chance to win,” trainer Benno Yung said at Sha Tin on Friday (15 December) morning.
Jockey Derek Leung, ever-present on the strapping Mastercraftsman five-year-old and successful last weekend in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile, has no fears about lugging a heavy weight.
“He’s a big, strong horse - he’s more than 1,300 pounds, so carrying 133 pounds is no problem for him,” he said.
Jockey and trainer, though, are unsure about where the pace in the race might come from. And both are open to the New Zealand-bred gelding taking the lead if necessary.
“On paper, there seems to be no obvious speed,” Yung said. “You just never know but if his natural speed takes him to the front and that’s where he’s comfortable, he can lead. If not, that’s ok, he can just stay where he’s comfortable.”
Leung agreed: “If the situation is that he is leading, that shouldn’t be a problem. He has experience now, so he’s not too keen. But also, if he settles second, fourth, fifth, it’s no problem for him.
“I think there’s still more to come from him,” he continued. “He’s in good form; he’s never too keen in the morning, so that means he keeps his energy for the races. We’re all happy with him.”
Doctor Geoff weighs in at the other end of the scale to his rival. The bay, a Listed winner at the distance for Ger Lyons in Ireland last May, went to post last time with his bodyweight at 1,006lb to Pingwu Spark’s 1,332lb. The smaller horse gets a 4lb pull in the handicap on Sunday.
The Fast Company gelding showed Four-Year-Old Classic Series potential with that smart Hong Kong debut but has drawn a tough gate in 12 for his second start.
“If it was a mile last time I think I would have got up,” jockey Matthew Chadwick said. “It’s 1400 metres again, from a worse barrier, so it’s going to be a tougher task for us - especially on the C 3 course. A lot depends on the run we get from that gate - hopefully we can find some cover somewhere.
Doctor Geoff surprised Chadwick last time with the way he finished off the race, quickening through the final 400m in 21.58s to Pingwu Spark’s 21.67s.
“Last time, the horse in front of me dropped off the back of Pingwu Spark’s heels and put me right behind the winner. It was just a sit and sprint from there,” he said.
“I knew he’d kick but I didn’t expect it to be that fast, so he’s obviously got ability. He’s improved and he feels like he wants at least a mile, beyond that I’m not too sure. He’s only a young horse and there’s more to come, so we’ll just wait and see.”
Doctor Geoff could make his way into the first leg of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, the Hong Kong Classic Mile, on 21 January. That is a potential target for the John Moore-trained Good Standing, too.
“He does feel like a good horse,” Sunday’s rider Zac Purton said. “He has a nice action and he moves well. He’s quite well-balanced and his form tells you that he’s a pretty handy horse, but he’s very big in condition, he’s very heavy, very thick in the wind, so whatever he’s going to do first time out he’s going to continue to improve on. He’s going to get better as time goes on, I think.”
Good Standing already has 12 races under his belt from his time with trainer James Cummings in Australia, 10 at Group race level with five G1 starts. Purton was in the plate for the Artie Schiller entire’s latest barrier trial, in which he passed the post second behind recent winner Amazing Star.
“I can see him running a nice race,” Purton said. “The grade of race he’s got to step out in first time is a good quality race, so it probably would surprise me if he came in and put them away comfortably. But he’s got quality and you never know with these types of horses.”
The Lukfook Jewellery Beloved Collection Handicap also features among its 14 runners the talented but enigmatic Limitless (132lb), the useful John Size-trained pair Eastern Express (133lb) and Big Bang Bong (122lb), last season’s three-time winner Penang Hall (121lb), Hong Kong debutant Zilong (121lb) - a G3 winner in Australia when known as Shocking Luck - and last start winners Happy Agility (118lb) and World Record (118lb).
Sunday’s card starts with the Class 4 Lukfook Jewellery Wedding Collection Handicap (1000m) and also features the Class 3 Lukfook Jewellery Cup Handicap (1600m) at 8.40am.