We head to Sha Tin this Sunday for a 10-race meeting, featuring a Group 1 double header and a hugely competitive-looking support card. Although both Group 1 fields are on the small side by Hong Kong standards, they do consist of the best horses in training, including the world’s leading miler Beauty Generation.
The first of the Group 1 contests is race five, the Centenary Cup over the 6 furlongs due off at 7.00am. The Stewards Cup (race seven) over the mile will jump at 8.05am and is the second top-class race which is the first leg of the Hong Kong Triple Crown.
Don’t forget, you’ll be able to watch all the action live on Sky Sports Racing with John Blance and I in the studio.
My best bet (NAP) on the card is NICCONI EXPRESS in race three, the class 2 New Street Handicap (6.00am) over the 9 furlongs.
This four-year-old was purchased out of Australia in 2018 having won both starts at the Sunshine Coast when with David Vandyke. He’s now had the three local runs for John Size and got on the board for the first time when he won a Class 3 contest over a mile here at Sha Tin last time out.
On that occasion he won by just under a length, but it would have been further if Moreira had released the handbrake. Obviously, the handicapper agrees as he has given him an 8lb hike in the handicap to a mark of 81.
Nicconi Express now finds himself in Class 2 company for the first time, but he runs from the foot of the weights, and the manner of his victory last time when he looked the winner a long way from home would suggest he will be more than competitive at this level.
The selection steps up to 9 furlongs for the first time and although you can’t be sure until they prove themselves over the longer trip, I am in no doubt it wasn't a coincidence that he was able to land his first blow in Hong Kong at his very first try over the mile, and the extra furlong here should bring out even further improvement from this progressive type.
My next best (NB) on the card, SPEEDY KING, runs in race eight, the class 3 Po Yee Handicap (8.40am) over 5 furlongs.
From a betting perspective, it’s an intriguing race as I Am Power (1) was a winner last time out over course and distance on just his second start, and the next four across the line all reoppose. Hugh Bowman, who will be on his way to London for the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Awards next week, takes the ride, and despite being between 4lb and 8lb worse off with some of those behind last time, the Peter Ho runner looks a major player again.
However, the selection, who didn’t contest that particular race, also scored over course and distance last time when he won with a bit in hand. Although there are many variables to consider, it’s worth noting he did run a quicker time than I Am Power by approximately 3 lengths.
The five-year-old from the Ricky Yiu yard usually runs over 6 furlongs and is a two-time winner over the trip, but he has a good record over the minimum trip, winning two from three, and his most recent victory was his first time on the straight course.
It’s no surprise connections have elected to send him out again over course and distance as he has the speed to sit up on the pace, but he also has the ability to hit the line strongly.
They always look to come to the grandstand side in these races, so the draw in 13 is ideal, and the race couldn’t map any better for Speedy King with the 3, 6 and 7 all likely to look for the front.
From the draw, the selection should be able to bag the rail in the trailing position, and with what looks to be a perfect race set up, Speedy King should go close to making it two from two over the straight course.
My each-way (EW) selection on the card is KASI FARASI who goes in race nine, the class 3 Tai Ping Shan Handicap (9.15am) over 7 furlongs.
The Jimmy Ting-trained runner has only had the three starts in Hong Kong and whilst form figures of 9, 4, 6 hardly jump off the page, I think this four-year-old gelding will be very competitive if he can finally have a bit of luck, of which he is due some.
He was purchased out of Australia in 2017 having won two of his three starts, thus he has already shown that he possesses his fair share of ability, but the racing gods have not been kind to him in Hong Kong.
He’s had three tough draws on the bounce and was planted three-wide the entire trip in his first outing, yet only wilted late when beaten less than 2 lengths.
On his second run, he made heavy contact and became unbalanced at the start before having to shift off heels in the straight to get a run. If that wasn’t enough, last time out, and I quote directly from the stewards’ report, “after passing the 900 metres, Kasi Farasi struck heels and blundered badly”.
The upside to all of this is the selection has dropped a few pounds in the handicap, and by law of averages, he is due a clean round. We aren’t just relying on lady luck, however.
Although this is a solid enough class 3 contest, it doesn’t look as strong as his last two assignments, and he can take advantage of that and the good draw in stall one. Zac Purton has been booked for the first time, and I think that is not just a sign of intent, but an indication that connections have had enough of the bad luck stories.
Hopefully the selection gets a clean run at things this time around.
GROUP 1 ACTION
The first of the Group 1 contests is race five, the Centenary Cup (7.00am) over 6 furlongs and the first three across the line from last year’s running, D B Pins, Mr Stunning and Beat The Clock all return for the 2019 edition.
MR STUNNING will go off favourite here on the back of his Group 1 win in the Hong Kong Sprint at the International meeting last month when we flagged him up as one of the better bets on the card. On that occasion, he had both D B Pin and Beat The Clock back in second and third, respectively.
Under the same conditions here, it’s difficult to oppose Mr Stunning and he definitely looks the one to beat again. There may be some value in taking the Mr Stunning/Beat The Clock straight forecast as Beat The Clock had a tougher race set up than D B Pins last time. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that Joao Moreira has elected to take the ride having had the choice of the two.
The second of the Group 1s is race seven, the Stewards Cup (8.05am) over a mile, the first leg of the Hong Kong Triple Crown. Over the years this race has been won by some of Hong Kong’s greatest, including Fairy King Prawn, Good Ba Ba and more recently Able Friend.
This year’s favourite, the reigning Hong Kong horse of the year, BEAUTY GENERATION looks unbeatable on form, and should win this without too many problems. The John Moore six-year-old has always been a very good horse but has gone to another level this campaign.
His current official rating of 127 places him in the top echelon of horses anywhere in the world. It also puts him 7lb clear of his nearest rival Pakistan Star, who is better over 10 furlongs. Needless to say, Beauty Generation will go off at prohibitive odds here and the best play I can suggest is to take the favourite on top with Conte in the straight forecast.
Conte is an exciting lightly-raced five-year-old from the John Size yard who is quickly going through the grades. He ran a career best last time when winning a Group 3 handicap in far easier style than the bare margin suggests.
Although he is rated 13lb inferior to Pakistan Star, John Size is just so good at knowing exactly when to step a horse up to Group 1 level, as he showed with Hot King Prawn earlier this season.
Conte does step up to a mile for the first time, but this son of Starcraft should relish the extra furlong, whilst Pakistan Star, who prefers to run over further, could potentially be using this race as a stepping stone to the Hong Kong Gold Cup, followed by either the Dubai Turf or the Dubai World Cup for which he holds entries.
Thus, to create some value, the Beauty Generation/Conte forecast is the play here.
Tim's Best Bets:
6.00am SHA TIN (race 3)
NICCONI EXPRESS (NAP)
8.40am SHA TIN (race 8)
SPEEDY KING (NB)
9.15am SHA TIN (race 9)
KASI FARASI (EW)
BETTING ON HONG KONG RACING
Punters can bet into the Hong Kong pools online through Betfred.com .