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)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor