Aerovelocity’s triumph in last season’s HKG2 Premier Bowl at Sha Tin Racecourse was the first rung on an ascent that culminated in the gelding’s crowning as Hong Kong’s Champion Sprinter. On Sunday (25 October), 12 months and three international G1 wins down the line, Paul O’Sullivan’s stable star will make his season’s bow in that same 1200m handicap, but despite the familiarity of the task, connections are not quite sure how Aerovelocity will fare in the challenge.
Two bloodless barrier trial wins leading into the Premier Bowl have given observers the outward impression that the champ still has what it takes, and while that may well be the case, connections have nonetheless noticed a change in the once bull-headed bay.
“He’s a much more relaxed horse this season,” said jockey Zac Purton. “I don't know if that’s because he did the travelling last season or maybe it’s that he’s a little bit older, but normally he can be quite an aggressive horse and he hasn’t been like that at all.”
It is that lack of aggression that has planted a small seed of doubt in the minds of jockey and trainer as they head into the new campaign.
“He hasn’t done quite as well in the stable this time around and it might be that he just needs a race to bring him on,” said O’Sullivan, who peaked the Pins gelding to win last December’s LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint at the course and distance before embarking on two overseas raids that yielded Japan’s G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1200m) and Singapore’s since discontinued G1 KrisFlyer International Sprint (1200m).
“He might just be older and complacent, I don't know,” added O’Sullivan, “but I expect him to take a lot of benefit from the run. I don't think he’s as far forward as he was last year. He hasn’t taken off and thrived yet.”
For all of that, O’Sullivan is not losing sleep over Aerovelocity’s first-up test. A repeat in the LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint and the prospect of a US$1 million Global Sprint Challenge bonus is the ultimate aim.
“Saying all that, he looks well,” said the trainer, “so I’m not overly concerned, it’s just I know he can be a little bit better than how he’s going, that’s all. Sunday will tell us a lot. If he could run a good race and run into some stake money we can build on that.”
Purton has been Aerovelocity’s ever-present pilot over the past two seasons and was in the plate for his two recent barrier trials, an easy all-the-way 1200m (all-weather) effort on 13 October and a facile spin over a wet 1050m (all-weather) on 22 September.
“He’s won both of his trials pretty comfortably and he’s done everything right, he’s jumped, shown his speed and put them away,” said the former Hong Kong champion. “At this stage we’re hopeful that he’s going to produce what he did last season but until we get him to the races, we’re not 100 percent sure. He was always going to have a fair bit of improvement in him from these trials heading towards December. Whatever he does on the weekend he’s going to improve on.
“He’s been such an honest horse all the way through that I’m sure he’ll give his all like he always does. We’re just looking forward to getting him out there and seeing if we’ve still got the same horse. It’s the same prep as last season - these two trials at the same time, then this race, so in that regard everything’s the same and hopefully the result’s the same.”
Aerovelocity is set to carry 124lb in Sunday’s race, which features a host of stars, headed by Hong Kong’s Horse of the Year Able Friend - fourth last year for trainer John Moore - who will shoulder top-weight of 133lb under Karis Teetan.
The field also features the Moore-trained Not Listenin’tome, impressive when successful first-up for the season in the HKG3 National Day Cup (1000m) on 1 October. G1 stalwarts Amber Sky, Gold-Fun, Lucky Nine and Peniaphobia are also due to clash in the high-class renewal, along with Bundle Of Joy, Dundonnell, Charles The Great, Secret Sham, Golden Harvest, Smart Volatility and Tour De Force.
The Premier Bowl is one of two Group race features on Sunday, the other being the HKG2 Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy (1600m) in which last year’s victor Military Attack will face a host of talented rivals, among them G1 winners Dan Excel, Blazing Speed and Dominant, as well as the emerging talents Contentment, Beauty Only and Giant Treasure.
Purton was aboard the Caspar Fownes-trained Military Attack for last season’s triumph and the Australian will take the ride again at the weekend having handed the seven-year-old’s reins to Vincent Ho for his latest barrier trial.
“I had a look at the replay and he seemed to trial well enough,” said Purton, in reference to the Oratorio gelding’s five-length sixth in last week’s 1200m all-weather heat won by Thewizardofoz. “I’m going to jump on him in the next couple of days and get a feel of him myself. He’s a little bit older now so he might just take that run to start to come on, especially looking at what he did in the trial. He’s another horse that never runs a bad race and I’m sure, given the right circumstances, he can be very close.”