Sky Lantern and Moonlight Cloud on course for epic Sha Tin duel

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Richard Hannon has reported that Europe’s top female three-year-old miler Sky Lantern has settled into her new accommodation in Hong Kong without any problems and everything appears set for arguably her greatest challenge in an increasingly glittering career.

The 1000 Guineas, Coronation Stakes and Chariot Stakes winner faces one of Europe’s strongest ever offerings in the history of their participation in the race, Freddie Head’s all-conquering Moonlight Cloud, currently 5/4.

Fresh from securing a Group 1 hat-trick, culminating in a breathless victory in the Prix de la Foret on Arc Day where the five-year-old mare produced a dazzling turn of foot from way off the pace, there is no doubt that the daughter of Invincible Spirit deserves her place at the market’s summit. That ability to inject pace at the very time when many of the opposition are struggling has been a hallmark of the Head-trained star’s victories and has been a prerequisite for success down the years at Sha Tin.

There are also no shortage of French success stories either. Dunaden, Doctor Dino, Pride, Daryakana and Vision D’Etat all have set an encouraging precedent in the past and it is difficult at first glance to pinpoint any holes in the widely held prediction that Moonlight Cloud will add her name to that illustrious roster from across the channel.

On the other hand, every European raid is fraught with concerns and drawbacks and it is not only the arduous journey that foreign challengers are forced to overcome.

In the last seven renewals of the Hong Kong Mile the prize has gone to a domestic trainer and they are understandably bullish about their leading hope Gold-Fun, currently 4/1. Last week’s Jockey Club Cup has contained the winner of the race in each of the last seven seasons and Gold-Fun made it an even more attractive statistic by winning the contest, making it three wins from three this campaign.

The four-year-old was originally with Ger Lyons in Ireland and actually broke his maiden at Naas before heading East to be part of Richard Gibson’s operation.

In addition there is no escaping the reality that her best performances have usually been reserved for no later than August and in Deauville. She has lost three of her four starts later than October and is yet to cross the line in front outside of France.

This will be heartening information for Sky Lantern’s connections who could eventually be thankful for having to miss Champions Day because of the ground if they were to land the HK$20,000,000 (approximately US$2.5 million) bounty.

Despite Hannon pointing that that their star asset was a bit “quiet” when arriving off the plane, preparations seem to have gone as smoothly as possible and if that remains the same she will arrive at the gate with massive claims.

Richard Hughes has shown throughout his partnership with Sky Lantern the unquestionable faith he has in her ability and only once has that confidence backfired when being dramatically boxed in at Goodwood in the Nassau Stakes when clearly travelling the strongest.

A similar result is always a concern in unfamiliar surroundings but Hughes is an authentic genius in the saddle and the chances of him making the same error twice have to be considered remote.

Europe have never been more equipped to snatch one of the most lucrative purses in the game and if either Moonlight Cloud or Sky Lantern reach their best level, and are spared trouble in running, one of them will surely prevail.

However, no-one needs to look too far back to see how the very best plots from afar have unravelled on landing and that is what is helping to make this one of the most fascinating contests of the calendar.

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

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