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Previous winners look set to fight it out for ultimate sprinting crown

| 06.12.2013

The Hong Kong Sprint is the youngest of the four International Races staged at Sha Tin this weekend but some of its brief history will be there for all to see when the gates let fly.

Favourite for the 15th renewal and winner of the 14th Lord Kanaloa bids to repeat the feats of Falvelon in 2001 and ‘Horse of the Decade’ Silent Witness in 2004 by defending his sprint crown and justifying odds of 5/4.

However, Takayuki Yasuda’s star is not the only charge with winning memories as 2011 winner and second favourite for this year’s contest, Lucky Nine, returns to try and reclaim his crown.

Currently 4/1, Caspar Fownes’ globetrotting cash machine has been reported to be in exceptional form on the gallops with his handler describing his work ahead of the $1.75 million contest as “exciting”.

Jockey Brett Pebble, who has partnered the six-year-old in all of his races bar one since the beginning of January 2011, echoed his employers’ comments, saying: “It was outstanding, that was the only way I can describe it. He was still on the bridle, so I’d hate to think what he could have run if I’d let him go.”

This will be highly encouraging for connections who could be forgiven for feeling they were due some good cheer following a hugely disappointing raid in the Sprint Classic at Flemington during Melbourne Cup week. Sent off the 12/5 favourite, Pebble was forced to pull up the five-time Group 1 winner with sore limbs, eventually trailing in sixth.

Fears of any lasting fall-out from that episode seem to be dispelled now and there is an authentic bullishness about Fownes and Pebble that they can overcome the favourite and get their hands on the bounty once more. They keep their excuses within arms length at all times when the subject of Lucky Nine’s two career defeats to the race jolly is raised in conversation. The son of Dubawi missed the start in last year’s Sprinter Stakes in Japan and was taken back from gate 12 when trying to defend his crown last year.

Those involved with the horse have softened the blow of those reversals with such mitigation, however, they must recognise the reality that even without those unforeseen handicaps it would still be far from certain that the outcome would be any different.

This is because it is difficult to expose any chinks in Lord Kanaloa. A comfortable winner last year, the five-year-old has swept aside all opposition in the major speed events in his home country of Japan and it’s impossible to argue that his place several pitches above any other on the market’s scale is not deserved.

Only once in his last seven races has he not returned to the winning enclosure and never has the son of Kingmambo stallion King Kamehameha been out of the frame, never beaten by more than three quarters of a length.

The trainer who leads the British challenge, Edward Lynam, will only be too aware of what his representatives, the unrelated pair of Sole Power and Slade Power face in their bid for their first taste of international glory.

The former and better known of the duo has been a runner-up three times when sent on quests to Meydan and could finish only ninth on his only start at Sha Tin, in this race two years ago, finishing four-and-a-half lengths behind Lucky Nine when unconsidered at 181/1.

The popular six-year-old is also without a win in his last three since winning the King’s Stand Stakes in dramatic style from South Africa’s Shea Shea at Ascot back in June and it is no surprise to see his less heralded stablemate higher in the betting.

Slade Power’s trainer has clearly always thought highly of him, pitting him against his pal at Dunshaughlin in two races this season already. A pair of impressive victories at the Curragh in Group 3 contests preceded his greatest and latest performance in the Group 2 Sprint Stakes on Champions Day at Ascot and despite never running outside of Britain the son of Dutch Art has to be preferred from his travelling partner.

However, that may be the only race Slade Power will win on holiday as it looks too tall an order to expect the four-year-old to successfully compete with the likes of Lord Kanaloa and Lucky Nine who, even putting aside their obvious ability, have so much in their favour.

Whilst Lytham’s charges only have one Sha Tin experience between them the aforementioned favourites are part of the history and furniture of the track and it is difficult to see how one of them won’t be adding their name once more to the roll of honour.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Sam Foster