It will take a little under 70 seconds of unforgiving sprint action at Sha Tin this Sunday to shape the future of some very significant careers.
The 10 runners for the G2 Premier Bowl Handicap (1200m) jump at 4.10pm local time for a race with a distinctly regal feel.
Ivictory (128lb) became the new young king of Hong Kong sprinters last spring and tops the bill for trainer John Size as he bids to join a roll of honour including local legends like Aerovelocity and Able Friend.
Young pretender Hot King Prawn (117lb) loosened Ivictory’s crown slightly by wearing down his stablemate in the National Day Cup (1000m) three weeks ago and aims to continue his march to the top on tougher terms.
Former Size star Mr Stunning (128lb) makes his debut for Frankie Lor aiming to regain the throne Ivictory seized from him in a memorable Chairman's Sprint Prize almost six months ago.
Powerful greys Pingwu Spark (124lb) and Fifty Fifty (128lb) return to sprinting after performing with honour against the best around over further.
And, amid all the compelling equine angles, a talented young Australian rider bids to breathe life into a Hong Kong career which has stalled after an immensely promising start.
Sam Clipperton, who partners Hot King Prawn for the first time in a race this weekend, was marked for big things when he rattled off 40 winners in his first season in Hong Kong.
Last term proved tougher with only 18 successes and the Aussie has endured a frustrating start to his third term with one winner from just 33 rides in a season which could end prematurely if things fail to pick up before his current contract expires early in 2019.
Clipperton suffered another blow when Ping Hai Star, his intended mount in Sunday’s Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy, broke down earlier this week but if there is tension building ahead of Sunday’s showdown then he is doing a very good job of hiding it.
“It’s a significant day but I’ll be treating it like any other and I don’t think there is any point in putting extra pressure on yourself.’ he said.
“I know if I get the right opportunities then I can deliver. Fortunately, I’m getting some good chances from John Size and Paul O’Sullivan, but I won’t head out thinking ‘I really need to do this,’ as you just aren’t helping yourself if you think that way.”
Hot King Prawn, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Clipperton is extremely well-placed to assess the big three Premier Bowl contenders as he partnered Mr Stunning to second in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize in April and got acquainted with Hot King Prawn when the handsome grey bustled up Ivictory in a trial last week.
“Hot King Prawn is a good horse with a lovely quiet nature who does everything professionally and the trial was a good piece of work to keep him ticking over into Sunday’s race,” he said.
“Ivictory will be taking a lot of fitness from his first run, so he’s going to be pretty hard to beat, but my horse is still well-weighted and he’s going to come on for his first run, too.”
Ever the pragmatist, Size pointed out that Hong Kong has a group of consistent elite sprinters who are very closely matched and therefore capable of beating each other depending on how the cards fall.
However, he was keen to point out “two obvious factors” in relation to Sunday’s contest, namely that Hot King Prawn moves back up to 1200m and that Ivictory is 5lb better off having been beaten just three quarters of a length in their last meeting.
“When horses turn five in Hong Kong they usually make a bit of improvement, but Ivictory has already won a Group 1 at level weights and if he can reproduce his best then that will stand him in good stead for the season,” he said.
“Hot King Prawn still has a weight advantage, but Ivictory has done most of his racing round a bend over 1200m so there shouldn’t be much between them.”
Ivictory’s big-race partner Zac Purton was absent from trackwork at Sha Tin on Friday (19 October) but will be back from a trip to partner Red Verdon in Saturday’s Caulfield Cup in ample time for another big race.
A win for Purton and Ivictory would confirm we have a new king among the sprint division.
But a win for young pretender Hot King Prawn could mean something very significant for Clipperton’s Hong Kong future.
“Hot King Prawn would be a lovely ride for anyone to have,” he added.
“He’s not a top-liner yet, but he looks like he’s heading that way at a big pace so let’s hope he can live up to expectations.”