AEROVELOCITY will finish 2016 as one of the best sprinters in the world. There's no doubt about it. There may be 11 months to go, but judged on Sunday's success in the Centenary Sprint Cup he's already right at the top of the tree.
He was dominant on the weekend. He was absolutely cruising entering the straight before seeing off Group 1 winners Gold-Fun and Peniaphobia with ease. He posted an RPR of 125, which ranks him on top of the world at this very early stage of the year.
However, we probably shouldn't get too excited about seeing the New Zealand-bred star in Europe this year. When he was popped the Royal Ascot question last year trainer Paul O'Sullivan said: "no chance - we'll keep him in Asia."
A trip to Britain was not even on the radar. Instead the Hong Kong champ won Group 1s in Japan and Singapore before taking a summer break.
This time round we should probably expect a similar Asia-based schedule, with the Chairman's Sprint Prize (1 May) at his local track said to be top of the agenda, before a likely tilt at the Hong Kong Sprint in December.
International runners welcome
The timing of Aerovelocity's success was perfect for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, who just three days earlier laid out the welcome mat for overseas raiders by opening up almost their entire Group-race programme to international competition.
This move would have been bold ten years ago but there is no need for such protectionism these days since Hong Kong horses can more than hold their own on the world stage.
Sunday's Centenary Sprint Cup, which will be open to foreign-trained horses from next year, was evidence of their strength. Gold-Fun and Peniaphobia were too good for the international challengers in the Hong Kong Sprint in December and on Sunday another local proved too good for them.
This fits into a much larger picture which has seen momentum swing hugely in favour of the home team at Hong Kong's International meeting. The locals have also started looking out beyond their shores, with Hong Kong sprinters winning top-level races in Britain, Singapore, Japan, Dubai and the US in recent years.
Given their comparative strength these days, the fact is that opening up the Hong Kong race programme to international challengers in the 2016-17 season will probably have very little effect on turnout, as Hong Kong is far from a soft touch for easy prize-money.
Challenge from Australia
If there was a league table for international sprinting Hong Kong would come out on top. Australia may rival Hong Kong in terms of raw sprinting talent, but the Aussies have taken a more domestic stance recently with no overseas Group 1 winners since 2012 (Black Caviar and Ortensia).
The Chairman's Sprint Prize in May could see an important clash between the two great sprinting regions, with Hong Kong champ Aerovelocity and Australia's best sprinter Chautauqua eyeing the 6f prize.
Chautauqua missed out on a trip to the Hong Kong Sprint in December after picking up a minor injury, but his team are now looking ahead to the TJ Smith at Sydney's The Championships in April, which he won last year, then the Chairman's Sprint Prize and on to Royal Ascot in June.
At his best Chautauqua is closely matched with Aerovelocity, as both have peak RPRs of 125. But, considering the Aussie's predictably tardy starts, the Hong Kong runner should be able to make good use of his home advantage.
Sunday's win was a career best performance from O'Sullivan's seven-year-old, who had hinted at this sort of ability in the past but never had the form to back it up. This time, however, the stars aligned.
The best horse came home in front and won cosily, while the second and third best horses finished right where they should and just as they have been running all season. Gold-Fun ran to his Jockey Club Sprint winning RPR of 120 in second and Peniaphobia to his Hong Kong Sprint winning mark of 119.
The winner was a bit wayward when finally asked for an effort in the final furlong, lugging right towards the rail and bumping Peniaphobia, but the result was not effected and stewards quite rightly left the winner alone.
He might need to straighten up his finish but even if he stays in Asia we're going to see more fireworks from Aerovelocity this season.
The richest race at Sha Tin on Sunday was the Stewards' Cup over 1m. It went the way of former Roger Charlton-trainee Giant Treasure (117), who won a handicap at Ascot in 2014 under the name Sea Defence.
The winner has progressed since joining Richard Gibson and posted a career high RPR of 118 when splitting Maurice and Able Friend in the Hong Kong Mile last time out. He didn't have to hit that level to come out best in a tight finish on Sunday.
TOP OF THE CLASS: Aerovelocity 125 Paul O'Sullivan (HK) (Centenary Sprint Cup, Sha Tin, 6f, 31 January)