Thirty down and 20 to go as HK continues behind closed doors
No-one is taking anything for granted but Hong Kong is gradually reining coronavirus in, with zero new cases reported nine times in the last eleven days and certain social distancing rules expected to be relaxed in time for Mother's Day this weekend.
Wednesday's meeting at Happy Valley is the 30th HK fixture since the adoption of a behind-closed-doors model that France, Britain and Ireland are hoping to replicate but there are still 20 meetings left before the HK season ends with no sign of a let-up as Zac Purton and Joao Moreira go head to head at the top of the jockeys' table.
Zac back on the attack
In rugby parlance, Zac Purton took one (or perhaps two) against the head in his ongoing title duel with Joao Moreira at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Purton saluted in three of the first seven races and ended the day just one behind (110-109) his Brazilian rival, who scored a single aboard the well-backed Fabulous Eight but also missed out on six other market leaders.
Both men have full books of nine at Wednesday's Happy Valley meeting, where the highlight is a reprise of one of the most intriguing tactical battles of the season so far as Dances With Dragon and Enrichment clash again in the Camellia Handicap at 3.50.
Fownes hoping Dragon blows hot again
Three-time champion jockey @zpurton brings up a century of wins this season as Dances With Dragon scores narrowly in the nightcap! 🍾🥇 #HKracing pic.twitter.com/GG9huCs9j0
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) April 15, 2020
Purton's daring swoop from the rear aboard Dances With Dragon was swiftly shadowed by Moreira that night but the canny Aussie kept a little in reserve on Casper Fownes's gelding and the pair re-oppose with Enrichment 3lb better off but drawn widest of all in stall 12.
Fownes suspects that Moreira's ability to do light weights could tip the title scales his way in the championship duel but feels Dances With Dragon can go close again after a 6lb hike to a career high mark of 97.
"He's like his trainer, nice and strong - a little bit fitter than me but he's in good nick,"joked Fownes. "He remains in good form, he's taken a liking to Happy Valley, he's back to the mile, and he'll give a good account of himself."
Good Will hunting for more HK winners
The transfer window for equine imports has narrowed appreciably during lockdown but agent Will Douglass, who has a keen eye on HK in his role with Gordon-Watson Bloodstock, is hoping to continue a golden run once racing resumes.
Smart winners like More Than This, Rise High, Big Time Baby, Preciousship, Doctor Geoff and Derby runner-up Playa Del Puente have flown the GWB flag this season and Douglass feels HK buyers will be in a strong position if, as seems likely, British and Irish owners feel more inclined to sell than normal.
He said: "Lockdown has affected things - as we usually buy several HK candidates in May - and things are going to be challenging as getting potential HK Derby horses to Hong Kong in good time is one of the most important aspects of the process."
Nearer to hand, Douglass feels last week's Valley debut winner Delightful Laos and The Rock - formerly known as Now The King and Vasiliev for Michael O'Callaghan and Clive Cox - are two unexposed recruits to note.
"Delightful Laos is very good looking and the perfect type for HK - I have high hopes for him," he added. "The Rock is a bit of a dark horse with a lot of potential. His debut for Caspar Fownes was very promising and his sire Dutch Art has been very lucky for me in HK."
Beauty G to go out like a Lion?
John Moore's hopes of being joined by his two stable stars when he returns to Australia this summer have taken a hit with news that Aethero's owner is minded to keep him in HK.
Moore believes the fresh air Down Under would help Aethero bounce back from the bleed he suffered in last month's Chairman's Sprint Prize but owners Andrea Tien and Arthur Cheng are minded to stay on home soil.
Logic suggests Beauty Generation's owners the Kwok family are unlikely to send him to Australia as he approaches his eighth birthday but HK racegoers might see him again before the end of the season in mid July.
Group 1 options have run out for the dual Horse of the Year but Moore has kept Beauty Generation in work since his close second in the Champions Mile and the G3 Lion Rock Trophy could provide an opportunity for him to become the first HK horse in history to win 19 races.