Show goes on with special measures in force
Hong Kong racing will continue in a state of partial lockdown in response to the potential spread of coronavirus.
Monday's Chinese New Year meeting - which normally attracts over 100,000 racegoers - went ahead with fewer than 10,000 people present due to special measures restricting attendance to owners, trainers, jockeys, officials and people with a prior restaurant reservation.
Those who did attend had their temperatures taken on entry, with the wearing of medical masks recommended, and HKJC CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges reports that the same protocols will apply for Wednesday's Happy Valley meeting and beyond.
"I would not be surprised if we had to have special measures for six to eight weeks," he said. "I hope not, but I think if you look at history, that is probably likely. We have to be extremely careful and extremely conscious about what we do."
Vincent on a Golden run
If HK racing's PR people tried to fashion a feelgood story to offset current challenges it would probably look a lot like that supplied by Golden Sixty and Vincent Ho.
The season's leading four-year-old is trained by popular homegrown handler Francis Lui and has gone from strength to strength under Ho, taking his total to eight wins from nine starts with a dominant performance in Monday's £1m Classic Mile.
Ho's gradual rise through the HK jockey ranks has been a relatively slow burner marked by numerous examples of being jocked off promising young horses once either Zac Purton or Joao Moreira come a calling.
Golden Sixty has looked like the horse to banish those memories for some while now and his potent turn of foot - evidenced by Monday's 22.24s closing split - keeps settling all arguments.
Moore impressed as More records career best
Lui went into Monday's Classic Mile suspecting that Golden Sixty might have too much pace for stablemate More Than This but the former Richard Fahey gelding ran the race of his life under Ryan Moore, coming home even faster than the winner to go down by a length and a quarter having run lazily in rear early on.
More Than This is a big, lengthy gelding - weighing in at a muscular 1217lb as opposed to Golden Sixty's 1059lb - who continues to give the strong impression that he can improve further once he gets the chance to step out beyond a mile.
The opportunity to do just that comes with a second crack at Golden Sixty in the Classic Cup over 1800m on February 23rd. Moore was suitably impressed, describing More Than This as " a lovely horse who ran a super race" and will doubtless be keen to maintain the relationship as road to the BMW HK Derby (March 22nd) continues.
That said, no seat is completely safe in HK racing. Karis Teetan gave way to Moore despite winning three on the Dutch Art gelding and a certain Australian currently searching hard for a foothold on the Derby trail might fancy his chances of securing another saddle switch.
Exultant on a high as Dubai plan takes shape
Golden Sixty's win stole the headlines but Monday's most notable ratings performance came from Hong Kong's champion middle-distance stayer Exultant, who relished a strong pace under Zac Purton to win the G3 Centenary Vase over 1800m in emphatic fashion.
He's all class, Exultant. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/7WajSSoYGb
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 27, 2020
Tony Cruz's gelding - rated 120 in last week's World's Best Racehorse Rankings - is clearly as good as ever and will now bid for second successive G1 Hong Kong Gold Cup over 2000m (February 16th) before a planned trip to Dubai for the Sheema Classic in March.
"He's not getting any younger and I think we'd better make a move and go to Dubai with him," said Cruz. "I believe he can do something in Dubai, I believe he can prove himself and win that race."
Hong Kong has won the Sheema Classic before with Vengeance Of Rain in 2007. Exultant is well worth his place at Meydan and a trip to Dubai might set up a rematch with Glory Vase, who bounded clear of a high-class field in the HK Vase last month and is still flying under the radar as far as global recognition is concerned.
Wellington a name to note as Badel hits three
Cruz and Purton both celebrated Chinese New Year with trebles and so did popular Frenchman Alexis Badel, now on 16 winners and sixth in the jockeys' table after scoring on three horses who all have plenty to recommend them.
Danny Shum's Perfect Match is already established at Class 1 level following a gritty success in the Chinese New Year Cup, while Douglas Whyte's Super Wealthy is working his way towards that level after making it two from three in HK with a decisive success in the finale.
Impressive debut! 👀
Wellington coasts to an easy victory for @AlexisBadel & Richard Gibson. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/usx8s5zvd8
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 27, 2020
Wellington has some way to go to be talked of in similar manner but Richard Gibson's gelding was gambled on for his Class 4 debut and justified support in fine style, tanking along then bounding three lengths clear of a runner-up who had shown plenty on his debut.
Gibson seldom has his youngsters fully tuned but described Wellington as "our nicest unraced horse" with "a lot of natural talent." The visual impression he created was strong. And the fact that he followed a 22.59s middle split with a 22.22s closer on his debut suggests that he could be well ahead of the handicapper from a mark of 63 next time.
Low draw and Moreira point to bold run from Victoriam
The fact that the Beer Garden and various betting halls are closed will lend a strange atmosphere to the Valley's Wednesday action but there are a handful of strong handicaps towards the end of the card with Purton and Moreira set to figure very prominently.
The fact that Amazing Star clocked a fiery 22.4s final split while still on the bridle in his latest romp is very notable, but so is the fact that he's been hiked 14lb and now moves up to Class 2 from an outside gate.
Former Gordon Elliott sprinter Loving A Boom is one to keep an eye on at much longer odds with Silvestre de Sousa aboard now that he's finally drawn an inside barrier,.
Victoriam is another who has been suffering from high draws of late but he ran way better than the bare result suggests on his latest start and the combination of stall 3 and Moreira for the first time makes him one of the most interesting horses in the 1.45.