Moore and co wanted for winter
Day one of a new season in Hong Kong offers any number of talking points but the local grapevine has also been buzzing with speculation about significant possible developments for the winter months.
Tom Biddington, who keeps his finger on the Hong Kong pulse as Racing Editor of the South China Morning Post, reports that officials are "incredibly bullish" about Euro aces like Ryan Moore, Oisin Murphy and Maxime Guyon remaining for a winter stint after the LONGINES HKIR meeting in December.
Welcome mat out for Euro HKIR stars
HKJC CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges confirmed as much in Friday's SCMP and also added that a drive is already under way to persuade connections of star European horses to head east for the December 13th showpiece.
Travel problems caused by the pandemic could rule out travellers from Japan, Australia and America, thereby providing added incentive for Europeans to take on Hong Kong's ageing elite in four G1 contests worth well over £9m.
"The feedback from major European stables is extremely encouraging," he said. "We have spoken about the process of bringing horses in, we have discussed how we want to accommodate their staff and I can say their interest - definitely fuelled by the prize money - is significant."
Patch has it covered in open Cup
Sunday's feature event - the HKSAR Chief Executive's Cup over 6f at 9.35am - has drawn a strong blend of Group race performers and smart handicappers receiving plenty of weight.
The John Size trio is headed by Champion's Way, who looks to be limbering up for big targets over further, while Neil Callan gets a chance to unlock the potential of the fiery Beauty Legacy as he steps back to sprinting.
Computer Patch holds off the fast-finishing Glorious Spectrum for Joao Moreira (@cavaleiro83) & John Moore! #HKracing pic.twitter.com/3yyweiAHTP
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) April 26, 2020
The rugged Shining Ace completes the Size team but fellow lightweight Computer Patch is perhaps the most interesting runner. John Moore has charge of this lightly-raced chestnut last term and guided him to three wins, the latest a narrow success over course and distance in April.
Trainers' title up for grabs again
Size looks a worthy favourite to land a twelfth trainers' title as the canny Aussie has a host of new talent to work with as he bids to shake off a 2019-20 campaign which ended with 46 winners and a frustrating 73 seconds.
John Moore's departure takes one leading rival out of the mix but his replacement David Hayes knows just what is needed to launch a title challenge and Caspar Fownes, Tony Cruz, Douglas Whyte and last year's surprise winner Ricky Yiu will all be aiming high again.
Six years have passed since Fownes saddled a final-day treble to land his third championship - thwarting old rival Size on countback - and the most colourful handler on the Hong Kong beat summed up the challenge neatly in conversation with the Jockey Club's Steve Moran.
"It's one of the toughest places in the world given the handicap system and the competition's getting stronger all the time," he said. "You can be flying one minute and hitting a brick wall the next, Trainers can gain and lose momentum very quickly here."
Sums add up nicely for well treated Street
The tightness of Hong Kong's handicap system makes knowing which trainers excel with stable transfers very valuable and Sunday's card flags up a couple of notable examples.
Canny South African veteran Tony Millard has a fine record in this category and it will be fascinating to see how Prince Of Gems - who showed plenty of promise for Dennis Yip and goes very well fresh - fares for his new handler in the 8.35am.
Sumstreetsumwhere, who lines up for Aussie trainer David Hall in the 8.00, has already shown the value of a stable switch by scoring over course and distance at Sha Tin's closing meeting of last season in July.
The six-year-old is up 7lb for that success but he beat some bang-in-form horses handsomely under Blake Shinn that day on just his second start since leaving Peter Ho and there's no doubt that he's still potentially well treated given that he was rated 71 this time last year.