By David Morgan
There was a time, not long ago, when the arrival of March would have placed Dubai in the firing line for Peniaphobia and Amber Sky. Not this year, though. The two speedsters, for different reasons, are focused on home this time and that affords the Sha Tin faithful the chance to witness the pair engage in an intriguing six-runner dash down the 1000m straight on Sunday, 5 March.
The Friendship Bridge Handicap is one of two Class 1 handicaps on the card, along with the featured Hong Kong Macau Trophy (1400m), and Peniaphobia (133lb), placed in the last two editions of the G1 Al Quoz Spint (1000m) at Meydan, will have to concede weight all around, including a hefty 29lb to the veteran Amber Sky (104lb).
Trainer Ricky Yiu’s old-timer is not the force he once was but the Exceed And Excel gelding is far from spent judged on his performances this term, including a short-head second to Dubai-bound Amazing Kids in October’s G3 National Day Cup Handicap at the course and distance. And a recent trail-blazing barrier trial showed that he still has some of the spurt that carried him to Al Quoz Sprint glory three years ago.
“Amber Sky’s in good form, I couldn’t be happier with him,” Yiu said this morning (Friday, 3 March). “Although he’s seven years old now, he trialled well recently, I was very happy with that and he’s as good as gold.”
Apprentice Dylan Mo, who will knock off a handy 10lb on Sunday, was in the saddle for that mid-February trial when Amber Sky bounced out of the gate and clocked 57.47s for the 1000m, finishing 11-plus lengths clear of the likes of Able Friend, Werther and Helene Paragon.
“He needs that low weight now because of his age,” Yiu continued. “He’s not the horse he used to be but he’s still competitive off these low weights, so with Dylan taking 10 pounds off him in a small field, I hope he can do it again. He’ll only have 104 pounds and not many horses have carried that weight this season, so it’s going to be interesting to see how he finishes.”
At the other end of the scale, Neil Callan is placing his confidence in Peniaphobia’s class to overcome top-weight. The 2015 G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) winner heads into the weekend test off the back of a front-running win in the G2 Centenary Sprint Cup (1200m). Tony Cruz’s charge will break from gate three, alongside the stall two-drawn Amber Sky.
“It was a very strong win last time, he beat a strong field,” Callan said of that three-quarter-length verdict over Lucky Bubbles. “Coming back to the 1000 - now he’s a bit older he seems to be better at the 1200, but it’s a small field. He’s carrying top-weight for a reason, he’s the best horse in the race: handicap conditions, 1000 metres, it’s a little bit of a change around but it’s nothing he hasn’t done before. We’ll go in there with an open mind thinking he can do the job.
“He’s in really good form, he’s very straightforward and he’s been around here long enough to know how to ride him. It’s just nice to keep the association with him; with not going to Dubai he’s going to stay here and go for the Group 2 (Sprint Cup) here in April after this. Hopefully he can keep his confidence up and keep winning.”
Callan, though, is not taking his opponents lightly, particularly Amber Sky and the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen (1200m, dirt) entrant Not Listenin’tome (131lb).
“Amber Sky has reinvented his life a bit, he’s going to carry next-to-nothing in weight, and obviously, Not Listenin’tome is going in there with cheek-pieces on this time,” Callan said. “But they’re horses that we’ve beaten before and even though the distance and conditions have changed a bit, it won't deter me from thinking I can beat them.”
The field also features last season’s Champion Griffin, Mr Stunning (113lb), from the John Size yard. Joao Moreira’s mount has a career record of five wins from eight and posted a smart win at his first attempt at the course and distance last time out.
Another promising four-year-old, the John Moore-trained Bad Boy (113lb), will also line-up, as will the Benno Yung-trained My Little Friend (113lb).
Sunday’s 11-race action kicks off at 12.30pm with the Class 4 Guia Hill Handicap (1200m). The Class 1 Friendship handicap is race three, due off at 1.30pm, the Class 1 Hong Kong Macau Trophy (1400m) is race seven, due off at 3.35pm, and the concluding race is the Class 2 Taipa Handicap (1800m) at 5.50pm, which features BMW Hong Kong Derby entrants Limitless, Circuit Hassler, Prawn Baba, Raghu and Who Dat Singa.
Peniaphobia makes all to win the G2 Centenary Sprint Cup last start.
Amber Sky (no. 5) finishes a close second behind Amazing Kids in October��s G3 National Day Cup.