No crowd, no problem. The appetite for betting on HK racing seemed stronger than ever on Champions Day at Sha Tin on Sunday when - with the public locked out and all the city's 101 betting shops closed - turnover was slightly up on the same day last year at around £140m.
Increased international coverage caused by global lockdown doubtless played a part in the fact that almost £30m of the total came from international commingling, up forty per cent on 2019, but what else did we learn from a card featuring three G1's worth nearly £6m?
Generation game but not the force of old
Beauty Generation's era as the world's highest rated miler is over. In truth, it was over before he went down to Southern Legend in the Champions Mile and Zac Purton's relentless pressure was to no avail in a dramatic finish. He's been a tremendous flagbearer for HK racing but his future is uncertain, trainer John Moore keen to take him to Australia for one run before retirement and owners the Kwok family yet to announce their plans.
Jury out as Aethero blows out
Purton's Champions Day started badly - Aethero tailing off having bled in the Chairman's Sprint - but ended on a high as the admirable Exultant filled the last remaining blank on his HK G1 dance card with a typically bold display in the QEII Cup. Exultant will add plenty to his £6m prize money haul before he's done. As for Aethero, Moore wants to take him to Australia. Wherever he ends up, it's a tough road back from this low point.
Exultant poised for more G1 glory
The role of early pace in deciding races is perfectly illustrated by the fact that Beauty Generation lost despite recording one of his fastest closing 400m splits and Exultant won after clocking one of his slowest. Beauty Generation will have to drop in class if he's to run again this spring but Exultant has another G1 option and the Champions & Chater Cup over 2400m late next month looks at his mercy for a second year running.
Vincent joins the G1 club
It was fitting that Vincent Ho landed his first G1 on Southern Legend on the day Purton completed his full set. The barriers that home-grown riders face in a city where powerful owners tend to be swayed by foreign star power shouldn't be underestimated but Ho's Derby win on Golden Sixty and this success place him in the elite now and it would be great to see him in a good race or two if the British season resumes as hoped this summer.
A Stunning way to bow out
The racing careers of HK's best older geldings often finish with more of a whimper than a bang but Mr Stunning's life at the top of the HK sprint division ended on a high with his Chairman's Sprint Prize win. Owner Maurice Koo has drawn stumps and Karis Teetan - who owes both his HK G1 wins to Frankie Lor's Exceed And Excel gelding - was on hand for some final photographs before he heads for a new life in Australia.
Baby so close to the Big Time
Exultant wasn't the only ex-Euro to shine, as Big Time Baby ran the race of his life to bustle up Mr Stunning at 28-1 and Waikuku finished a fair third in the Champions Mile. Playa Del Puente and More Than Thisran respectably in the Champions Mile and QEII Cup but didn't do enough to polish the form of Derby conqueror Golden Sixty, who will surely be better off over a mile rather than banging heads with the rugged Exultant when he returns in the autumn.
Joao aiming to rediscover Valley magic
Joao Moreira, who missed out in the G1s but rode a treble to end the day three clear of Purton, admits he is having issues replicating his brilliant Sha Tin form at Happy Valley. Only 28 of the Brazilian's 107 winners have been gained at the city track - with just one from 31 in his last four visits - but Moreira recognises the discrepancy and told the South China Morning Post "I am aware of it but I'm on top of it, don't worry about that."
Fluke needs another daring ride from gate 12
👀 4x races over 6f on the "A" Course at Happy Valley tomorrow
A distance where considering the draw bias is a MUST!
📊 #HKRacing pic.twitter.com/MTvCNZ6PTG
— Hong Kong Racing (@HongKong_Racing) April 28, 2020
Moreira has a full book of nine rides at Happy Valley on Wednesday but the draw hasn't smiled on him in four races over 1200m, with Simply Fluke, Victory Mastery, Wind N Grass and Californiadeepshot berthed in stalls 12, 8, 8 and 11 respectively. A daring early switch helped Simply Fluke defy the outside gate at the Valley three weeks ago but he's been raised 5lb and his rider admits that "we all know the gates play a big part and the best we can do is just hope."