Conte the star as Hong Kong rings in the New Year
The new year came roaring in at Sha Tin on Tuesday with a crowd of over 84,000 cheering eight winning favourites on a day featuring several notable headlines.
Champion trainer John Size and new stable jockey Joao Moreira sent out an ominous new year message with a sparkling five timer.
However, several other improvers also made a big impression.
Frankie Lor’s exciting grey Big Party could hardly have been more impressive in bolting up in a Class 3 over 1200m, clocking a striking 22.49s for the final 400m despite being eased right down.
Regency Legend clocked the fastest final split of the day (21.82s) in landing a hot Class 2 over the same distance with authority.
And Waikuku, a Leopardstown winner for John Oxx last summer, took an early step down the BMW Hong Kong Derby trail for Size and Moreira in the finale.
That Derby trail continues this weekend – with several familiar former British horses stepping out in new surroundings.
Euro imports on show as road to the Derby continues
It’s safe to assume Tigre du Terre, Charity Go and Kai Ying Star were bought with the BMW Hong Kong Derby (March 17) in mind and all three test their credentials in Sha Tin’s Sunday finale at 9.45GMT.
Tigre du Terre won off 98 for Richard Hannon on Eclipse day and made an excellent Hong Kong debut when pipped behind the smart former Ger Lyons galloper Insayshable.
And Charity Go, known as Fortune’s Pearl when second in Newmarket’s Fielden Stakes for Andrew Balding, also caught the eye in the same race.
The pace was pedestrian that day and Charity Go did very well in fifth, dropped out from stall 14 then coming home strongly to clock the fastest closing 400m split (22.21s) of the day.
Kai Ying Star (formerly Urban Aspect) was impressive when scoring off 93 for Balding at York last August and is another former Brit to note.
However, not many Hong Kong imports score first time out in Class 2.
The fact that champion jockey Zac Purton rides Charity Go for the first time is notable.
Add in a low draw in a race featuring few noted front runners and he should get every chance to show just what he’s made of.
Blinkers could be key as Ivictory aims to get back on track
Six-runner races are rare in Hong Kong and the G3 Bauhinia Trophy revolves around three key questions.
Will Wishful Thinker be as effective coming from behind in a small field? His late-running style raises doubts.
Can ultra-progressive three-year-old Styling City continue his progress? He needs a career best to score from well out of the handicap.
And will headgear help champion sprinter Ivictory banish memories of three below-par efforts?
Ivictory was crowned Hong Kong’s champion sprinter after winning the Chairman’s Sprint Prize last spring but has been finishing tamely of late, including when sixth in the Hong Kong Sprint.
But champion trainer John Size has made several notable changes.
Ivictory returns to the minimum trip with blinkers for the first time. They seemed to work when he bolted up in a trial and the fact that Joao Moreira is 4-4 on him shouldn’t be overlooked in a race worth £325,000.
Silvestre system working well
Silvestre de Sousa’s progress has been one of the hottest stories in town of late.
With 18 winners (and almost £4m in prize money) in just nine weeks, the British champion is thriving and his ability to galvanise horses he rides for the first time has been striking.
A 1lb rise for that looks very fair, but Cordyceps is in top form for his first venture into Class 3 and recent evidence suggests he might find a little extra with de Sousa up for the first time.