Jolly Banner (124lb) and Chad Schofield paired to win the Class 1 Kwangtung Handicap Cup (1400m) last season and that combination will attempt to go back-to-back in Sunday’s (9 September) Sha Tin feature.
Ricky Yiu’s charge saw off eight rivals, including last week’s Class 1 HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup (1200m) hero Winner’s Way, when landing the spoils last term. This time, four opponents stand between the seven-year-old and a repeat win.
“It’s a really nice race for him, being a small field,” Schofield said after barrier trials at Sha Tin Racecourse this morning, Friday, 7 September.
“He’s such an easy horse to ride. He’ll be the first horse to leave the gates and he can relax and travel with cover if I want to. I’ll speak to Ricky and see what we come up with but the race looks good for him.”
Schofield also knows that Jolly Banner has a fine first-up record. The Lonhro gelding has kicked off three of his four previous seasons with a win.
“He’s going very well,” the rider said.
“We know how good his record is fresh and he’s just that; his work’s been really good and he feels as good as ever. I like the fact that he hasn’t trialled; he is fit enough and obviously he won the race last year so hopefully he can go back-to-back.”
Schofield has a good handle on the opposition, too, having previously ridden Horse Of Fortune (129lb), Packing Dragon (118lb) and Rattan (118lb). He rates one of those as a standout danger.
“It would definitely be Rattan,” he said.
“His run last week was good. We’re going to have to give him a little bit of weight and he’s a very nice horse himself.”
The Richard Gibson-trained Rattan steps out just seven days after finishing a nose second under top-weight in a Class 2 handicap at the course and distance.
The 101-rated five-year-old is shooting for a sixth career win at start 16.
“It’s probably the worst rating for a horse to have in Hong Kong, so we’re rolling the dice again because there’s n
o other race options for the horse,” Gibson said.
The trainer added the Savabeel gelding to the Kwangtung Handicap Cup field after the race was reopened earlier this week.
“He pulled up well after his run last week, so it’s close your eyes, cross your fingers behind your back, and roll the dice,” Gibson said of the decision to race on consecutive weekends.
Neil Callan was in the plate for the gelding’s season debut but with Rattan set to shoulder a lighter burden, Gibson has turned to 13-time champion jockey Douglas Whyte.
“It helps having the champ on board, he’s cunning and a five-horse race is pretty unfamiliar territory, so I’ve got the right man on board,” he said.
The Tony Cruz-trained Romantic Touch (121lb) completes the line-up and Karis Teetan is looking forward to getting the leg up.
“He felt so good when I rode him in his trial, he was smooth and hit the line strongly,” he said.
“He feels like he’s come to hand quickly because he gave me a good feel in the trial. The small field could be a little bit tricky but he’s a tough horse, he’s won in Macau and they have to be tough to win there. I think he could win a race like this.”
Teetan will team with Cruz in race eight, too, taking the reins in the Class 4 Shantou Handicap (1400m) on the promising Pakistan Friend (133lb). The Hong Kong International Sale graduate races in the same green and white starred silks as Pakistan Star and is one from one after a last-to-first win on debut back in July.
“Pakistan Friend gave me a nice feel in the barrier trial, he’s a really nice horse,” Teetan said of the four-year-old.
“He wasn’t too bad in the trial with me but Tony says he’s been getting better and he’s improving all the time.
“I didn’t have great rides in my last two meetings but things are looking good for the weekend and I’m going in with some confidence,” he added.
The Kwangtung Handicap Cup is race two of 10 on Sunday, with a start time of 1.20pm.
The afternoon’s sport commences at 12.50pm with the Class 5 Zhaoqing Handicap (1000m), while the finale, the Class 3 Guangzhou Handicap (1200m), is set for 5.50pm.