Dylan Thomas on top form for last hurrah in Hong Kong Vase

At this time of year the spotlight is, properly, on mudsplattered geldings thrilling us with their exploits over obstacles. They are, in the words of Will Ogilvie in his poem about steeplechasers, the "limber lean-of-head ones; hardy, hefty humble-bred ones".

But to paraphase Ogilvie, Danehill's sons and Sadler's daughters are no longer tucked away in winter quarters. And on the other side of the world, in Hong Kong via New York and Tokyo, the best of the former is ready for his last hurrah.

Though Dylan Thomas left the European scene nearly nine weeks ago, he still has a task to complete before heading for the delights of his next career as a stallion at Coolmore Stud. On Sunday he takes part in the Hong Kong Vase, one of four international Group 1 contests offering a total prize money of some 4m. The four-year-old's presence in the former colony is seemingly not just an afterthought, but an afterthought's afterthought. After getting bogged down in the Monmouth Park mud after his Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe win he was surprisingly directed to and then prevented from running in by veterinary red tape the Japan Cup, a race which would not have enhanced his already huge stud value by one iota. Nor would success on Sunday, which would top up his earnings by a mere 500,000.

But should he prevail, it would emphasise just how remarkably tough he is and provide Aidan O'Brien with considerable job satisfaction. The colt's season began in April and has included eight top-level races in four countries, of which he has won four and finished second in three.

Yesterday morning Dylan Thomas, favourite for the 12-furlong Vase, impressed work-watchers, and his trainer, as he bounded enthusiastically through his final serious spin, recording a final two-furlong split of 23.4 seconds on the turf course at Sha Tin.

"He is amazing," said O'Brien. "I don't think any other horse but him would have got this far. We know just how good he is on his good days and he seems in fine form, but he has had a long, hard season. But on the other hand he is a typical son of Danehill, getting bigger and stronger, and he has this great will to win. You can never be over-confident in a situation like this, but we are hopeful. But whatever happens, he doesn't owe anybody anything."

Dylan Thomas should have his favoured fast ground on Sunday, when his rivals in the race won in the past three years by British challengers Phoenix Reach, Ouija Board and Collier Hill, will include Brian Meehan's Red Rocks, third in the Breeders' Cup Turf. O'Brien will run Excellent Art, runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Mile, in the Hong Kong Mile, also the target of top French filly Darjina and Peter Chapple-Hyam's charge Al Quasi.

European hopes in the Hong Kong Sprint centre on the first and third in the Prix de l'Abbaye, Benbaun from Mark Wallace's yard and Desert Lord, trained by Kevin Ryan. But the pair will have to cope with Australian mare Miss Andretti, who had them behind her in the King's Stand Stakes and showed her well-being with a Group 1 win at Flemington three weeks ago.

The most prestigious of Sunday's races, though, is the Cup, won last year by Arc runner-up Pride. The local champion Viva Pataca, who began life here as nursery winner Comic Strip, has thrived since heading east and is looking for his sixth top-level success. His chief opposition should be perennial rival Vengeance Of Rain and a new one in Godolphin's Ramonti, stepping up to 10 furlongs.

Back among the seasonal performers, the retirement of one of the most beloved has been announced. Spot Thedifference's emotional seventh win round Cheltenham's unique cross-country course last month has proved to be his swan-song.

J P McManus's 14-year-old slipped and fell while pulling up under JT Mcnamara, and the cheers when he rose to his feet behind the dread screens matched the victory ovation. His connections will not tempt fate again. "Grown-up people were crying that day in Cheltenham," said trainer Enda Bolger. "We decided to end on that high note."

Such is the celebrity of the bay gelding, who raced 51 times for 14 wins in all, that fan mail addressed merely to 'Spot Thedifference, Ireland' finds its way to his box at Bolger's yard in Bruree, Co Limerick. The horse will remain there, before a celebrity appearance at the Festival in March, and then join Istabraq at McManus's Martinstown Stud.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Rapscallion

(Leicester 3.30)

NB: Defi

(Wolverhampton 9.20)

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
film
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: Financial Accounting Manager

£300 - £400 per day: Argyll Scott International: I am currently recruiting on ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Based Sales Surveyor - OTE £40,000

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Field Based Sales Surveyor is...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: UI Designer/ User Interface Designer (UI, User Flow, Design)

£6000 - £60000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: UI De...

Investigo: International Finance Analyst

£270 - £300 per annum: Investigo: An exciting opportunity to join an internati...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?