Able Friend can clinch the Stewards' Cup
Hong Kong (Sha Tin) preview
RACE 1 (1,200M)
6 OPTIMISM is an infrequent winner, having only scored in one of his 33 Hong Kong starts. He has not raced on the circle at Sha Tin since his fifth Hong Kong start, and has almost exclusively raced at Happy Valley since, save for one Sha Tin run down the straight. He is consistent enough and is a major player.
7 TREASURE AND GOLD is also racing well and looks to be nearing a win. He returns to Sha Tin too and makes his first start over this course and distance this season. Joao Moreira maintains the ride and he will be hard to beat.
2 HAPPY FIERY DRAGON ran well in his first run in Class 5 and the switch to a strong rider in Neil Callan looks a plus, particularly from a good gate.
13 INTELLECTUAL GLIDE still has not won from 37 Hong Kong starts but has placed in his last two tries over the Sha Tin 1,200m. He is a chance yet again.
RACE 2 (1,600M)
3 SUPER TALENT has only missed the board once in Class 4. His statistics over the mile are not overly encouraging but, in a race of this nature, he looks more than capable of winning for the first time in nearly two years.
1 ENREACHING has stepped out in a number of unsuitable races recently. The return to a turf mile at Sha Tin looks ideal and, from the inside gate, he should be in the mix for a long way.
11 HIT A HOME RUN is mixing his form of late. He looks near another win but he has drawn awkwardly again and he is a horse that needs everything to go his way. Still, he's worth including.
2 MAGNETISM has yet to win in Hong Kong but has run a number of good races in this grade. He returns to the 1,600m, which found him out last season, But, with a little extra maturity under his belt, perhaps it might prove more suitable now.
RACE 3 (2,000M)
10 BLAZING PASS is a difficult horse to follow but this looks a suitable race for him. Both his wins have come over a mile, but he ran okay over 2,200m at Happy Valley last month and as a horse that needs pace on, he should be suited around this course and distance. The booking of Joao Moreira is another positive.
14 AEROLUMINANCE really caught the eye when he made late ground last time out after striking interference a number of times in the straight. He would be on top if he had drawn a good barrier. From barrier 12 at one of the toughest starting points in Hong Kong, it is going to be tough for him, but he might still be worth a play depending on price.
6 HAPPY AND HEALTHY has never been over this trip before but, on breeding, he should see the 2,000m out and he has run a good race over 1,800m before, even if his best efforts have been at a mile. With a good draw, he should get the perfect run in transit and he can figure.
2 FANCY MUSIC has also drawn awkwardly but he was a big winner last time out and he gets another crack at Class 4 here.
RACE 4 (1,200M CENTENARY SPRINT CUP)
3 LUCKY BUBBLES appears a Group 1 winner in waiting after two narrow defeats at the highest level over this course and distance in 2016, once in the Chairman's Sprint Prize to Chautauqua and the other in the Hong Kong Sprint to Aerovelocity. Crucially, he meets Aerovelocity five pounds better for a short head defeat, and given he looks to only have improved from the Hong Kong Sprint based on a recent trial, he should be winning here.
4 PENIAPHOBIA won the 2015 Hong Kong Sprint but doesn't get a penalty here. There doesn't look to be a great amount of speed here and he should cross to the front from the outside gate, and if he gets it easy enough, he will be hard to run down.
1 AEROVELOCITY has to concede five pounds to the rest of this field and this is more than likely a "bridging" run between the Hong Kong Sprint and the Takamatsunomiya Kinen. He's still some chance here, but regression wouldn't surprise either.
6 BLIZZARD has to take a step up to be competitive at set weights, but the way that he's won his last two outings - particularly last start - suggests he is more than capable.
RACE 5 (1,200M)
7 STAR OF PATCH was good on debut, finishing third, but he went to another level in his second start, emerging from nowhere to win impressively. He looks a horse headed far higher and, if he makes the same improvement heading into start three, he will be a major contender.
4 HIGH VOLATILITY was flattered by the speed last week but still ran well for second to highly impressive debutant Nothingilikemore. Joao Moreira has jumped off and is replaced by Gerald Mosse, but a repeat of last week's effort will have him somewhere around the mark.
Moreira is jumping on 5 SUPERIOR BOY, who has been somewhat disappointing in his inability to break through, despite a number of good runs. Perhaps the Magic Man will make the difference in his first ride on the horse.
2 ORIONIDS drops to Class 4 for the first time but performed well enough in Class 3 to suggest he can be competitive here from an inside gate. The switch from Dylan Mo to Neil Callan is a big positive, too.
RACE 6 (1,000M)
2 MR STUNNING entered this season with plenty of expectations, and while he has not been disgraced, he has not yet lived up to the hype that surrounds him. That's not to say he can't do it yet, though, as he still looks to have improvement in him. His best efforts in lower grades came when he was ridden off the speed, a tactic that was forced upon him first-up when he was shuffled back after a slow beginning, and he was not disgraced in running home strong for fourth. A strong on-pace win followed on International Day, before he was again ridden for speed last time out and just weakened late into third. He is unlikely to lead over this straight course with some very speedy horses engaged, and perhaps that can allow him to find his best. 4 ADVENTURER is one of those speed horses who will jump out and make the lead under Umberto Rispoli, particularly from the favourable outside gate. He looks like he has reached his mark but his natural speed means he's always a chance in this sort of contest.
3 MY LITTLE FRIEND and 5 ARCHIPPUS are winners over this course and distance and expect both of them to be flying late.
RACE 7 (1,400M)
14 MONEY BOY has only won one of his four starts but has placed in the other three. He still appears a work in progress but stepping up to Class 3 looks a positive with the relative offset in weight. He was forced to make a long sustained run last time out, when he looked the likely winner for much of the straight but just couldn't pass long-term leader Five Up High. If he can be held up for a little longer here, he will be awfully hard to pass.
The form around 11 REGENCY BO BO looks very strong, having split Classic Mile runner-up Seasons Bloom and big-margin winner Beat The Clock last time out. He got into a spot outside the leader from the outside gate that day, but he should be able to get a softer run from the inside gate and he looms as the hardest to beat.
8 A BEAUTIFUL has not been the most straightforward horse and is yet to prove he can win in Class 3. But he had a number of hard-luck efforts when last in the grade and deserves to be given another chance.
4 INDIGENOUS UNION makes his Hong Kong debut, having formerly raced as Laoch Na Mi in Ireland when trained by Jim Bolger. He has an awkward gate and will want further, but he has looked okay in his trials and he narrowly gets the nod ahead of 1 TANG FLEMING.
RACE 8 (1,400M)
5 INVINCIBLE DRAGON missed the start badly in his first start this season but flew home for second. In his second start, he raced a little closer and swept up to just beat in-form Jolly Banner. He rises in class but drops in weight, and this looks a winnable Class 1 for him.
3 RACING SUPERNOVA has had things against him in his last two starts since winning a Class 1 over this course and distance in November. If he can settle, he's a major threat.
1 DASHING FELLOW is an honest on-speed galloper. Carrying 133 pounds isn't ideal but he could get things his own way here and so he must go in.
8 SUPER LIFELINE has completed a personal trifecta in this race, winning in 2014, finishing third in 2015 and then second in 2016. He has not won in nearly three years, but he's at a mark where a win appears near and this is the ideal scenario for him - little pace, a good draw and a small field. He can finish in the placings again.
RACE 9 (1,600M GROUP 1 STEWARDS' CUP)
1 ABLE FRIEND has his third start this season here and looks far more primed now after two solid efforts. He resumed with a fourth in the Group 2 Jockey Club Sprint over 1,200m before entering the Group 1 Hong Kong Mile underdone. His effort to finish sixth was good under the circumstances, although it still wasn't the Able Friend of old. He needs to show soon that he has come back from what was a career-threatening leg injury, but his work has been first-rate and he looks to have put on more weight again to be more like the hulking beast he once was. If he's anywhere near his best, he'll be winning here, even from the tricky outside gate.
His stablemate 7 HELENE PARAGON has yet to win this season but is coming off two luckless runs in his last two starts - a badly-hampered seventh in the Group 2 Jockey Club Mile (1,600m) before flying home for second to Beauty Only in the Hong Kong Mile. He is right on the cusp of a big-race score.
4 BEAUTY ONLY has really impressed this preparation, particularly with his last two wins in the Jockey Club Mile and Hong Kong Mile. The big problem throughout his career has been backing up his form from race to race, and although he's currently in the form of his life, he is liable to put in a bad run at some point soon. That said, any pace scenario that suits Able Friend will also suit Beauty Only, especially given they'll both be going back from wide draws, so he must be included.
8 CONTENTMENT is an honest top-flight galloper who appears suited getting back to set weights after a game fourth when not finding the clearest of passages in the Group 3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup (1,400m) last time out. His main target will come next start in the Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup (1,400m) but he appears worthy of consideration here.
Also, don't dismiss last year's winner 10 GIANT TREASURE, who has changed stables from Richard Gibson to Tony Cruz since the Hong Kong Mile.
RACE 10 (1,200M)
13 SUPER SIXTEEN steps out for his second start here, having really impressed with his debut victory in Class 4 late last month. The step-up in class is a tough ask but he does drop in weight and, if he can display a similar turn of foot here, he will be hard to hold out.
7 LUCKY WAN FENG had trialled tremendously heading into his first start over the straight 1,000m, but he struck trouble a couple of times throughout and was eased out after a nasty incident at the 200m. He has trialled well again since and the step-up to 1,200m should suit.
4 HAPPY AGILITY has been racing well since being restricted to 1,200m. He may be nearing his mark but he can still be competitive.
2 MOMENTUM LUCKY was outgunned by Hang's Decision in his first start after a decent break earlier this month. With added fitness, he is some chance.
RACE 11 (1,600M)6 WHO DAT SINGA was good enough in his first Hong Kong run when finishing fifth to My Darling, especially given he didn't have clear running at times in the straight. He produced a good effort in a recent trial when Silvestre de Sousa lost the irons soon after the start and he looks ready to stamp himself as a Hong Kong Derby contender.
Another horse likely to target the March feature is 3 BOOMING DELIGHT, who has impressed in three outings to date. He managed to get a victory over Prawn Baba last time out, who he meets again here, and while the step-back in trip doesn't look ideal, he does have a spectacular turn of foot and he will be hard to beat.
European imports 1 BEAUTY WAY and 2 LIMITLESS make their first Hong Kong starts here.
Beauty Way was named Gershwin in England, where he won two from seven for David Lanigan. He has had a rushed preparation but he looked good in a recent trial and he can make an impact first time out.
Limitless was named Defrocked in England, where he won three from five for Jamie Osborne, including the Britannia Stakes at Royal Ascot. He has had a more thorough preparation than Beauty Way, but he also looks to be quite quirky and he has not been as impressive at the trials. Still, he bears close watching first time out.
COMMENTS BY ANDREW HAWKINS, COURTESY OF THE HONG KONG JOCKEY CLUB