Attendance restrictions have been relaxed slightly in line with new Government measures as the threat of Coronavirus reduces and a smart Irish import steps out for the first time as Zac Purton and Joao Moreira continue to duke it out at the top of the jockeys' table.
VALLEY CLINIC PUTS PURTON IN DRIVING SEAT
Purton headed to Happy Valley on Wednesday one behind Joao Moreira but returned to his Sha Tin lair four clear of his arch rival after putting on a clinic in how to ride one of the world's most demanding tracks with maximum precision.
Loriz, Rich And Lucky and Bright Kid barely left the inside rail to salute in the first three races; French import Reel Bizzy was coaxed home in a wild finish in race seven; and Purton crowned a memorable night when Dances With Dragon weaved through traffic to thwart the Moreira-ridden Enrichment in the nightcap.
Hong Kong's champion jockey @zpurton caps a fantastic five-timer with victory in the Valley nightcap aboard the in-form Dances With Dragon. 🙌 #HKracing pic.twitter.com/m6vJWZga41
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) May 6, 2020
A measure of the fine margins at play in Hong Kong - and the difference a world-class rider can therefore make - can be gauged from the fact that the five winning distances together added up to just over half a second on the clock.
Ever the politician, Purton still grumbled that "I can't get on any of the horses I want to." But the Aussie has outscored the Brazilian 22-15 over the last ten meetings and his prowess at The Valley - where he leads Moreira 48-30 this season - could be significant as battle continues.
FULL BOOK GIVES MOREIRA CHANCE TO STRIKE BACK
Moreira was in candid mood in discussion with the HKJC's David Morgan on Friday, stressing that his intense rivalry with Purton is purely a sporting one and reminding any doubters that there are still almost 200 races left before the title is decided.
"The public is loving it but Zac and I are only rivals on the track," he said. "We treat each other very well and I think we shouldn't change that because if we do it will make things awkward for both of us and create an unhealthy environment."
With a full book of good rides and Purton inactive in three races, Moreira looks well placed to strike back, including aboard newcomer Iluvataar (7.00am), smart sprint handicapper Hong Kong Win (9.35am), the hat-trick seeking Fantasy (9.05am) and Douglas Whyte's Farhh Above in the finale at 10.45am.
Moreira described trial winner Iluvataar as "a quality horse" and added that a strong pace will give Hong Kong Win "a chance to come from behind and run them down."
Farhh Above has been beaten at short prices on his last three starts but Moreira still feels "he has the potential to go farther than he's gone so far” and whatever happens on Saturday, the Brazilian is up for the fight. "What Zac did on Wednesday was fantastic,” he added. "But I don't think people should doubt me. I've got the skills and the abilities. I'm very strong mentally and I'll be doing my best all the way to the end."
DERBY FIFTH UP AGAINST IT ON BELATED HONG KONG BOW
Almost two years have slipped by since Hazapour took up the running halfway up the straight, looking a potential winner of the 2018 Derby under Frankie Dettori. There was no disgrace in being run down by Masar, Dee Ex Bee, Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior that day but the horse who raised Classic hopes for Dermot Weld faces a tough test on his Hong Kong debut in Saturday's Amber Handicap (10.10am).
Hazapour stayed around at four, winning a Group 3 at Leopardstown, and is now known as Amazing One Plus under the care of Danny Shum. But the list of horses who win first time out in Hong Kong from a mark of 89 is short, and, after two ordinary morning trials and with a full range of headgear employed for his first run since last year's Queen Anne, it will come as a surprise if the Irish import adds his name to it.
NEWCOMER CHAU FINDS A FRIEND IN BUDDIES
Decrypt represents one of numerous dangers to Amazing One Plus and last year's Irish Guineas third has Purton back aboard as he tries to reverse recent course and distance form with the reliable Ballistic King and Moreira’s smart but headstrong partner Beauty Legacy.
Meet Hong Kong's new apprentice @JerryChau15. 👋
The young rider makes his Hong Kong debut at Sha Tin on Saturday and spoke to @edward_sadler, along with his boss and 13-time champion jockey, @DJWhyteTrainer. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/AR0yVVAIiw
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) May 8, 2020
John Moore's gelding has thrived on turf and All-Weather and still looks well treated from a 2lb higher mark than when chasing home fast-improving Seattle Alley over course and distance in late March. It's hard to assess his partner Jerry Chau, who makes his Hong Kong riding debut having ridden 77 winners during a stint in Adelaide.
That said, the fact that 20-year-old Chau can claim 10lb on a front-runner with fine gate speed is significant. It’s also interesting to note that former mentor Ricky Yiu, who was miffed that his application to guide Chau’s career further has fallen to Whyte instead, insists that the youngster is "far and away better than the 10 pounds (claim)."