Northern Superstar may well polarise opinion when he continues his Hong Kong development in this Wednesday’s Group 3 January Cup Handicap (1800m) at Happy Valley.
On the credit side of the ledger, Tony Millard’s South African import is a dual Group 1 scorer in his homeland and well-treated at the weights after a fine fifth in the Group 1 Hong Kong Cup (2000m) at just his second Hong Kong start.
But on the debit side of the same ledger, Northern Superstar now switches from the open spaces of Sha Tin to the tricky downtown circuit for a red-hot race in which seven of his nine smart rivals boast 13 Valley wins between them.
Millard feels the fact that Northern Superstar is “a sensible horse who has been around” will help his chances of shining under the city lights, but Karis Teetan concedes that the switch in venues represents “the tricky part, the only question mark.”
Teetan added: “You can never be sure a horse will adapt to the Valley straight away, but when it comes to business this horse is a true professional. He did it so naturally in the Hong Kong Cup, coming out quickly from the outside draw to chase Glorious Forever and Time Warp and finishing off good.”
Northern Superstar was beaten less than three lengths into fifth behind Glorious Forever in that G1 contest – prompting a 10-point rise to a mark of 108 – but can still be rated a well-handicapped horse.
Teetan feels it is “unbelievable” that Northern Superstar now receives 19lb from Hong Kong Cup third Time Warp after finishing less than two lengths behind him at levels on 9 December.
Add in the fact that the Count Dubois gelding is 12lb better off with Gold Mount after finishing ahead of him last month and it’s easy to see why the Mauritian feels “he has to go for this race.”
“We were hoping to have someone like Time Warp in the race to give us a perfect weight, although it’s also important that we don’t let him get his own way in front,” he added.
“It doesn’t look like there is much to pressure him early, but I feel that I’m riding a proper Group 1 horse and the conditions of this race suit him perfectly.”
Legend to Dubai via Valley
Southern Legend’s Valley credentials are hard to fault following two wins there from two attempts over 1200m. The step up from a mile to 1800m in the January Cup poses a new challenge, but trainer Caspar Fownes feels his stable star can rise to it ahead of a planned trip to the Dubai Carnival this spring.
“I think Southern Legend can run out the 1800m and hopefully he can run it out strongly,” he said. “He’s come on really well from his last run and his trial last Friday was very nice so I’m looking forward to seeing him back at the Valley.”
Southern Legend is rated 123 after an honest third to Beauty Generation in the LONGINES Hong Kong Mile last time – and is pencilled in for another clash with Hong Kong’s Horse of the Year in the G1 Stewards’ Cup (1600m) on 20 January and a trip to Dubai if all goes to plan.
“He’s entered for the Godolphin Mile on dirt and the Dubai Turf over 1800m,” Fownes said.
Nearer to hand, Fownes is mindful of the need for Douglas Whyte and Southern Legend (129lb) to be in the right tactical position as tomorrow’s race reaches its climax.
“Time Warp looked right back on his game in his last trial and he’s got a great record from the front at the Valley,” he added. “I’d be keen to be in touch with him on the final corner and from there on we can make our own luck.”
Country Star in Million Challenge running
Telecom Brothers is going great guns in the race for the Hong Kong Airlines Million Challenge but Country Star is poised in behind and could go top of the table in the race for a HK$650,000 bonus if he fires his best shot in the closing Cannon Handicap (1200m).
Six of the current top 10 contenders for the popular series do battle for the Class 2 dash with Telecom Brothers bidding for a Valley four timer under Victor Wong.
Further success would put Me Tsui’s front runner in pole position for a series which runs until 13 February, but Country Star could nose ahead if he wins with Telecom Brothers finishing outside the first four.
John Size’s gelding has won three times at the Valley this term and showed even better form in defeat on his Sha Tin debut recently, burning valuable energy to lead from stall 11 then staying on willingly as the highly progressive Regency Legend asserted close home.