Peniaphobia's ready for a Stunning rematch in G1 Chairman's Sprint Prize
Peniaphobia had no answer to Mr Stunning’s closing kick when the pair locked horns last month, but jockey Neil Callan retains faith that the veteran campaigner can turn the tables on Hong Kong’s rising sprint star in Sunday’s (7 May) HK$14 million G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m).
“Mr Stunning beat me fair and square that day,” Callan said this morning (3 May), reflecting back on a half-length second to John Size’s exciting speedster in the G2 Sprint Cup at the course and distance.
“Dashing Fellow was pestering my horse up front but my fella still had the run of the race, so on the face of it he was beaten by a better horse,” he continued. “But it will all come down to draw, tempo and where horses are positioned in the race. Mr Stunning has to come out and prove it again, whereas my horse has been there and done it and he’s done it many times over!”
That Group 2 contest was the pair’s second meeting in as many starts and Mr Stunning’s first race in Pattern company; the four-year-old had climbed from Class 4 with six wins from nine prior Hong Kong starts. Peniaphobia, on the other hand, a six-year-old in his fourth Hong Kong season, is an old-timer when it comes to elite competition; his resumé features a G1 score in the 2015 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint, two frame-making efforts in Dubai’s G1 Al Quoz Sprint and last year’s Hong Kong champion sprinter title.
Peniaphobia finishes a gallant second behind Mr Stunning in the G2 Sprint Cup earlier this season.
“He’s not that old, he’s six, but he came here as a two-year-old so it feels like he’s been around a long time, that he’s older than he actually is,” Callan said. “But if ever you want someone to keep producing a horse on the big day it’s Tony Cruz.”
The Dandy Man bay arrived at Cruz’s esteemed corner of the Sha Tin stable block in October, 2013. The Irish-bred had already made his mark in Britain as a precocious speedster, sharp enough to win the Weatherbys Super Sprint (1031m) at Newbury for his former handler, Richard Fahey.
In 31 starts since, Peniaphobia has won nine and placed second or third a further 14 times. And if his general appearance of a morning is anything to go by, he is in fine fettle for this upcoming attempt at securing a second G1 title.
“He looks really well on the track,” Callan said. “I see him in the morning time and he’s bouncing, so he looks like he’s holding his form well. If he is, he’ll run the same kind of race.
“They made a conscious decision to miss Dubai this year and just concentrate on home and it’s probably been a good idea because there’s a lot of prize money to be won here. The horse has been abroad before and done himself proud, so he really didn’t have anything to prove on that front.”
Including his four-race juvenile campaign in Britain, Peniaphobia’s win return per season reads 3, 3, 3, 2. This term he has one victory from eight starts, so one could say he’s due a win.
“He’s been running well, his form’s good and he’s running against the same horses again,” Callan said. “I’ve ridden him in his last three and he’s run two monster races, winning a Group 2, the Centenary Sprint Cup, and running a cracker last time behind Mr Stunning.”
Between times, Peniaphobia was last of six under top-weight in a Class 1 handicap down the straight. That too was behind Mr Stunning but, on reflection, the 18lb weight concession was a massive ask, and, as Callan said, “That 1000m race in between was just a blow-out for him.”
Peniaphobia’s Centenary Sprint Cup victory back in January was achieved from the front, much like his Hong Kong Sprint triumph 13 months earlier. Callan envisages a similar pattern this time around but will not lead for leading’s sake.
“He’ll jump and do his thing – I’ll just throw the reins at him and if they leave him alone in front, fine. But if they’re going a million miles an hour and taking him on, well then they’re going too fast. He’s come from off the speed and he’s made the running, so it doesn't matter.
“He’s a very straightforward horse. As long as you can just drop hands on him and let him dictate his own rhythm, rather than push or pull him, I think that’s when he’s at his best.”
Sunday’s 12-strong field will also feature two-time Hong Kong Sprint winner Aerovelocity, in what will be his final career start, as well as last year’s Chairman’s Sprint Prize second Lucky Bubbles.
The afternoon will also see seven contenders line up for the HK$16 million G1 Champions Mile, with Hong Kong’s star four-year-old Rapper Dragon set to take on G1 winners Beauty Only, Helene Paragon and Contentment, as well as British raiders Stormy Antarctic and Convey and the smart local galloper Circuit Land.