Hong Kong Diary

Live racing is off the menu for the most part but Hong Kong is still active and, with the clocks going forward, the stage is set for some high-class Sha Tin action at a reasonable hour on Sunday morning. Sky Sports Racing will cover all the action on a ten-race card and Joao Moreira and Zac Purton have their usual strong books as they go head to head at the top of the jockeys’ table.

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RACING ROLLS ON AMID TESTING TIMES

Hong Kong races on amid the coronavirus crisis but only after a scare involving home-grown rider Keith Yeung, who felt unwell after riding at Sha Tin last Sunday but is back in action this weekend after returning a negative test.

Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges

HKJC CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges described the episode as “definitely scary” but is adamant that Hong Kong is ideally placed to continue racing behind closed doors with a wide range of precautions – such as social distancing, medical masks, temperature checking and health declaration forms – all in place.

“We are in a unique situation,” he said. “Hong Kong in general has much more awareness and the public is much more controlled in how they face this challenge. You need a bit of luck but, structurally, we can minimise risk of infection. We have the infrastructure, the technology and the processes in place. I don’t think many other (jurisdictions) could replicate this easily and this is the advantage we have.”

PURTON AND MOREIRA PRIMED FOR ANOTHER LONG DUEL

Another volatile week on the Hong Kong jockey-go-round saw a Brazilian and an Aussie swap places, a Frenchman jump on and a hometown apprentice left behind before his ride even started.

Zac Purton has chipped away gradually at Joao Moreira’s lead at the top of the jockeys’ table and, with the Magic Man enduring a night to forget at Happy Valley on Wednesday, the Aussie snagged a double to nose ahead (90-89) for the first time since September. 

Purton came from 15 back to win a title duel that went to the last day of the season in 2018 and both men are anticipating another lengthy scrap this time around.

“It appears the momentum is with me but Joao says he’s got lots of bullets so I’ve always got to be wary of the support he’s going to get,” said Purton.

Conscious of the PR value of another late show, Moreira responded by saying “Zac is good for me and I’m good for him.” He added: “We both push each other forward and I think everyone will benefit from that.”

HAMELIN IN LOCKDOWN AFTER ANSWERING SOS

French rider Antoine Hamelin has signed up for his first Hong Kong contract after jetting in just before the local government closed down the city to all non-residents for two weeks on Wednesday.

The 28-year-old, who numbers a Prix du Jockey Club success aboard Saonois among 700 plus winners on home soil, didn’t have much time to make up his mind after it emerged that South African Aldo Domeyer has opted to remain in Cape Town with his family during the coronavirus crisis.

Hamelin has to undergo a 14-day quarantine at the HKJC’s Beas River complex before he can start a deal that runs to the end of the season but will be hoping to emulate compatriots Alexis Badel and Tony Piccone, who both enjoyed successful winter stints before returning to France recently.

PURTON READY TO MEET HIS MATCH

Another recent French recruit will be on duty at Sha Tin on Sunday but Transcendent won’t have Purton aboard when he lines up for a very strong Class 2 finale at 10.50.

A winner on All-Weather Finals day at Lingfield when known as Pizzicato for Fabrice Chappet, Transcendent bucked a trend by making a winning Hong Kong debut in Class 3 but Purton wasn’t surprised.

“Transcendent did what I thought he was going to do, he was trialling well and gave me a good feel,” he said. Purton switches to Danny Shum’s Perfect Match on Sunday having accepted the mount “quite a way out” and is optimistic of a good run despite a wide draw.

“There’s a lot of pressure in the race and it’s a bad gate (11) but he’s an honest horse, he always gives his best, and he goes well when he’s fresh,” he said.

YOU’RE FIRED – HONG KONG’S LATEST APPRENTICE SERIES OVER BEFORE IT STARTS

Meanwhile, Gary Lo’s dreams of becoming Hong Kong’s hottest new apprentice have been dashed after the Jockey Club withdrew his licence due to “a pending employment-related matter.”

The 21-year-old was meant to make his Hong Kong debut at Sha Tin on Sunday having recently returned from riding over 60 winners in Australia and would have been in demand because of the 10lb claim that new apprentices call on.

Club officials declined to comment on the reasons for their decision but local racing media are seldom so reticent, with some reports suggesting the youngster had acted against mandatory quarantine requirements by going jogging and posting related pictures on social media.

Hong Kong Diary
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