Further measures help HK racing go the distance
Slowly but surely, the threat of a second wave of COVID-19 infections is stripping HK racing to its bare essentials.
Latest measures banning public gatherings of more than four people resulted in an official attendance of zero as even owners with starters were prevented from attending Sha Tin's Sunday fixture.
Dialogue with government means owners with runners are back in the fold for Wednesday's AW meeting but only with enhanced social distancing protocols that could set a template for others to follow in the weeks and months to come.
Latest measures mean only one owner per horse is allowed into the paddock with jockey and trainer. Designated areas ensure 1.5m social distancing between each group both there and in catering facilities, while the traditional Winning Arch photo so beloved of winning connections has also been put on hold.
Jockeys continue to undergo testing several times a week, while apprentice Alfie Chan will miss his intended return from suspension on Wednesday having gone into self isolation because he has been in contact with someone suspected of being exposed to the virus.
Moreira aiming to find a friend in Buddies
Joao Moreira bounced back from a midweek Happy Valley blank in style on Sunday, riding his 900th HK winner and ending the day with a five timer that took him two ahead of Zac Purton at the top the jockeys' table.
The Brazilian has been the dominant AW rider this season and has a chance to shine again on a track made wet to slow by recent rain when John Moore's useful front runner Buddies tackles the Cheung Sha Handicap at 3.50 this Wednesday.
Former St James's Palace fifth Kings Shield rates highly among the opposition despite a wide draw as he continues his return from colic surgery, while Bear Slam (formerly Purser), Glorious Artist and Uncle Steve offer further ex-British interest in the £200,000 handicap.
Hong Kong racing continues tomorrow night (1 April) at Sha Tin for an 8⃣-race programme on the dirt! 🇭🇰 🐎
Our man @edward_sadler caught up with John Moore who trains Buddies (R8). #HKracing pic.twitter.com/3OswBrCrXI
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) March 31, 2020
But Moreira takes the reins on Buddies for the first time having beaten him into second aboard the exciting Seattle Choice on turf recently and is clearly feeling upbeat about the prospect.
"Buddies got beaten by a very good horse the other day and made it very tough for the winner," he said. "We have a very fit horse going into this contest, so I'm hoping he can take that run into Wednesday and he's got to be a hard horse to beat, especially if it's sloppy."
Stars out in force as Champions Day beckons
The heavyweights of HK racing are back this Sunday in a two significant trials for Champions Day on April 26th.
Beauty Generation is currently 4-1 down in meetings with Waikuku and this weekend's battle between the pair in the Chairman's Trophy should go a long way to confirming whether there is a new champion miler in town.
HK sprinting's past, present and possibly its future will be on show when Mr Stunning, Hot King Prawn, Thanks Forever and Aethero do battle for Sunday's Sprint Cup, but time will tell whether the local heroes will have international opposition for three G1s worth £5m in three weeks' time.
Grooms associated with any foreign raider would have to spend two weeks in quarantine before being cleared to work, while similar restrictions on overseas trainers and riders add further complexity to the equation.
"The principle of those races is that they are open and we will keep them open," said HKJC CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges. "How many (international raiders) will do it? We'll see. It is still theoretically an option. The likelihood of it? I am more guarded."
Turnover rolls on despite betting shop shutdown
Where in the world could you run a race meeting behind closed doors without a single betting shop open and still generate £130m in betting turnover?
Hong Kong has certainly shown that its online wagering future is secure during recent challenges and Sunday's total figure - less than ten per cent down on the same fixture a year earlier - shows that most people have adapted to a vastly altered betting landscape.
Robust turnover looks set to help Hong Kong avoid prize the money cuts being implemented in Australia but the programme of Simulcast meetings beamed in from abroad has already taken one hit with the loss of the Dubai World Cup and thoughts are now turning to alternative plans if five days of planned World Pool action at Royal Ascot have to be delayed until later in the summer.