The high-class seven-year-old caused an upset when defeating G1 winners Exultant and Time Warp in the G3 Sa Sa Ladies' Purse Handicap (1800m) at Sha Tin in November, but finished well down the field behind Glory Vase in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase last time – his first attempt at 2400m.
Caspar Fownes' G1-placed charge will reunite with a formidable ally, champion jockey Zac Purton, who is set to take the reins for the first time since the pair bagged a second successive victory in the SIN G1 Kranji Mile (1600m) in Singapore last May.
"He's been racing well all season – he looks as if he's gone to another level this season," said Purton, who believes the gelding had a sound excuse for finishing more than 10 lengths off the winner last time.
The Australian ace partnered the front-running Exultant to third place on that occasion, with Alberto Sanna stalking him on the rail aboard Southern Legend who faded out in the home straight.
"The first half of the race was run fast and it was going to be hard for Southern Legend to end up staying, so it was a good effort in the end, I thought," Purton said.
Southern Legend is a two-time winner from three starts at Happy Valley, his wins coming at 1200m back in 2017. His latest effort at the track saw him run home sixth in this race last year, off the back of a fine third to Beauty Generation in the previous month's G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile.
His top-level form sees him carry 133lb in the downtown venue's biggest race of the season.
"It's never easy in these Group 3 races to carry top-weight, it's not an easy race," Purton noted. "Doctor Geoff loves the Valley and he gets in with a good gate (3) and a nice weight (113lb), so he's going to be there as well.
"And Sacred Capital ran very well when he came (to Hong Kong) before and if he repeats that performance he's going to be very hard to beat."
The nine-runner contest also features the Valley's 1800m track record holder Time Warp (125lb), last year's winner Simply Brilliant (120lb), 2018 victor Eagle Way (120lb), Harmony Victory (113lb), Insayshable (113lb) and Not Usual Talent (113lb).
Moreira invests faith in Capital
Sacred Capital (118lb) is the one non-Hong Kong runner in the field. The Macau-based galloper returns to the city having placed fourth to Southern Legend in the Ladies' Purse.
Regular partner Peter Ho was in the plate for that run but Hong Kong's three-time champion Joao Moreira is booked to take over this time. The Brazilian rode the Joe Lau-trained five-year-old in an all-weather track gallop at Sha Tin on Sunday morning, clocking 22.5s for the final 400m.
"He's a good-looking horse, he's strong – I wish he was based over here, to be honest, because he could be a top horse based on the way he presents and his ability," Moreira said of last year's Macau Derby winner.
"He's going into this race with a light enough weight, he's a nice individual and he seems like he's going in with a genuine chance."
Sacred Capital meets Southern Legend on 3lb better terms – for a two-length margin – than when the pair clashed in the Ladies' Purse and Moreira believes his mount might well turn that result around.
"When he came over here and finished behind Southern Legend, he didn't have much luck as he was exposed three deep – the horses around him pushed him back turning for home, rather than taking him forward.
"If he brings that form here, he's a genuine chance – of course, we have to consider that he's racing at Happy Valley for the first time but I don't see much difference between Macau and Happy Valley – they're both tight courses."
Brilliant for Badel
Alexis Badel will never forget his victory aboard the Frankie Lor-trained Simply Brilliant in last year's January Cup. The Frenchman hit the floor hard just a few strides after sealing a first Group race win in Hong Kong and limped through the post-race formalities while nursing his fractured wrist.
"The stewards even called me in and gave me two days and a HK$25,000 fine, so I was like this (holding my hand to my chest), pretty white and couldn't walk. I knew something was wrong with the wrist," he recalled.
Badel was back riding two weeks later, even though the doctor had told him he would be out of action for closer to two months, a span that would have overshot the end of his winter riding contract.
"When I went to see the doctor, he said I would be able to ride again in March, so I said, 'Okay, I can fly back (to France) tomorrow!' So he said to come after two weeks and we will cut the cast and we will see. He was pretty surprised because I wasn't so sensitive, I was not able to trial horses two days before I returned to the races but I was okay for the Sunday, so I rushed myself a little bit. It was pretty painful."
Badel suffered a more serious fall at Lion d'Angers in France in August and had a metal plate inserted into his fractured face.
"It's ok now," he said. "You think about it a little bit. You say 'I don't want to live this again' but you just go forward. I don't have any doubt and I don't give myself the opportunity to have any doubt. I take the time I need to for recovery and then I will come back. I'm strong mentally."
Simply Brilliant's January Cup win was one of 10 for the rider during his third short-term Hong Kong contract and helped enhance his profile ahead of this season, which has seen him already bag 12 wins, two shy of his best return here.
"It was very important and hopefully the horse can do something similar," Badel said. "We already know Happy Valley and this trip suit him well. Based on his last run, it's so-so, but the race before, in the Group 2, he ran a good race, he was relaxed and he hit the line pretty good."
Simply Brilliant followed a sound fourth in the G2 Jockey Club Mile by finishing last of 10 in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile.
"Last time we went slow and the horse didn't relax, he didn't breathe and I was three-deep, no cover," Badel said. "It's very difficult in that case. Things didn't go well because the field didn't stretch and I was not able to cross. I had no options, so it's a race to forget and hopefully he can do something better this time. Based on the second-to-last race, he should run well."
Wednesday's nine-race card starts at 6.45pm with the Class 4 Kingston Handicap (1200m).