Sixty on a Golden run
The feature event on the first day of 2020 at Sha Tin brings together two G1 winners and several of the most talked-about young prospects around.
Fat Turtle moves up in trip after a couple of smart wins under Joao Moreira. It's notable that the Magic Man switches to Champion's Way this time but whether that decision pays dividends with Golden Sixty in opposition remains to be seen.
Francis Lui's gelding has built an impressive profile with six wins from seven starts and his latest success - where he stalked and pounced to rattle off the fastest closing 400m of the day under Vincent Ho - was typical of his rapid progress.
A further 8lb hike was only to be expected for his first venture into G3 company but Golden Sixty is one of the most progressive young horses in town and his turn of foot could prove crucial again if regular front runners Encouraging and Ka Ying Star get to work early.
Party in full swing as G1 target beckons
Moreira was absent from Sunday's Sha Tin card due to a bout of flu and Grant Van Niekerk stepped in for a fluent victory aboard Big Party, who followed up a pre-Christmas Happy Valley romp with an equally impressive win in the G3 Bauhinia Sprint Trophy.
That was easy... 👀
Big Party cruises to victory in the G3 Bauhinia Sprint Trophy for Grant van Niekerk & @FCLOR_RACING! 🚀 #HKracing pic.twitter.com/uGzBiqOzOy
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) 29 December 2019
Lor will take his time before deciding whether to pitch Big Party in against stablemate Mr Stunning and the rest of HK's elite 1200m horses in the G1 Centenary Sprint Cup on January 25th and is hoping his former hit and miss ways are behind him.
"He has had issues with his back and knees but at the moment everything is okay," he said. Meanwhile, the upwardly mobile Van Niekerk feels Big Party "is good enough to take on the big guns." He added: "He didn't take on the best but he won with authority and that must count."
Quadruple aiming for a famous foursome
Two notable recent trends are set to be broken in Wednesday's Chinese Banyan Handicap at 7.50.
The first is that Lucky More, unlike on his three starts so far, will not be going off at odds on. And the second is that Quadruple Double, unlike on his last three starts, will not be jumping from stall one.
Lucky More has started at 1.5, 1.8 and 1.7 in a trio of runs for Zac Purton. He was very impressive over 1000m on the second occasion but was turned over either side and paid the price for doing too much too soon when fading into fifth on his latest run.
Purton felt Lucky More was "driven mad" by being pressured for the lead that day and will be keen for a more relaxed trip this time but that's far from assured with Quadruple Double and Team Spirit in opposition.
Moreira partners the well-handicapped Team Spirit for the first time, while Quadruple Double is on a roll after three wins in his last four starts, the latest an emphatic defeat of a subsequent winner with bang-in-form horses in third, fourth and fifth.
Quadruple Double is a natural front runner who hasn't been so lucky in the draw this time with stall eight. However, the style of his latest win suggests that he's still improving and another bold bid looks highly likely as he bids to become the first HK horse to win four times this season.
Out with the old as Lyle strikes late
Hong Kong's final race of 2019 provided one of the feelgood stories of the season as 22-year-old Lyle Hewitson broke his duck at the 141st attempt with a dashing front-running ride aboard Last Kingdom.
Two-time South African champion jockey @LyleHewitson 🇿🇦 secures his first Hong Kong 🇭🇰 win after making all aboard the @DJWhyteJockey-trained Last Kingdom! 🍾 @SAJockeyAcademy #HKracing pic.twitter.com/kskX5eCFeY
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) 29 December 2019
The dual South African champ maintained an admirably positive outlook during one of the longest losing runs in HK history and thanked fellow countryman Douglas Whyte for the ride on a free-going Frankel gelding who won three times for Andre Fabre in his early days.
"Someone said that hard work brings good luck and I can tell you I have been putting in the hard yards,” he said. “It's a cauldron of fire here, if you’re not doing well you can burn to ashes if you let it."
Piccone ready for HK cauldron
Next into the cauldron is Tony Piccone, a 32-year-old Frenchman with 760 winners including G1 scores for Harry Dunlop aboard Robin of Navan in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud and Karl Burke’s Unfortunately in the Prix Morny.
Piccone has relatively little major international experience but landed the Qatar Derby recently and starts a two-month contract with four rides on Wednesday including Charity Go (9.00), who was useful form as Fortune's Pearl for Andrew Balding but has lost his way of late.
“My number one priority in any race is I’m always confident.” he said. “I am very relaxed before the race and in the race. There is no pressure for me and tomorrow I will ride four races and I am not nervous, I am excited.”