What do you give the jockey or trainer in your life for Christmas?
A low barrier and some luck for Happy Valley’s 26 December fixture is high on the wish list of many of Hong Kong’s racing stars, but Santa couldn’t give everyone what they wanted when the draw was made on Monday morning.
A cracked irrigation pipe means Wednesday’s holiday fixture will be held on the C+3 course instead of the A course and Caspar Fownes received just what he was looking for with low gates for several fancied contenders.
Fownes has saddled 10 of his 14 winners this season at the Valley and sends five runners across town including Super Leader, who drops to Class 4 for the first time in the Saturn Handicap (1200m).
The six-year-old got behind from stalls eight and 12 on his final two starts for his previous trainer Dennis Yip but stall three looks much more suitable as he makes his debut for a new yard in what Fownes describes as “probably the hardest Class 4 1200m race I’ve seen all season.”
He added: “A low draw should help him sit a lot handier and we’d like to use that to our advantage. He trialled very well in blinkers last week but he was a bit keen so I’ve left them off and he’s capable of going very well.”
Joyful to be triumphant?
Joyful Trinity was a high-class G1 contender at his peak but has lost 22 races in a row since winning the G3 Celebration Cup for John Moore in October 2016. His lofty rating has dipped appreciably, though, and Fownes hopes a first race outing at the city venue can help him revive in the Class 2 Mercury Handicap (1650m).
“Joyful Trinity has been in against some good horses for a long while but he’s in good form and ran very well the other day when third over 1400m behind Conte,” he added.
Stall five looks fair enough for Joyful Trinity and the same gate also looks promising for fellow Fownes trainee Chaparral Star in the Class 4 Uranus Handicap (1650m).
The High Chaparral gelding has been running consistently well of late and Fownes has booked Karis Teetan.
“It’s been another good year at the Valley, so let’s hope we can end it by snagging another winner or two,” Fownes added.
Badel keeps the Faith to offset Christmas shopping costs
Frenchman Alexis Badel is looking forward to linking up with Fownes aboard Super Leader and has fully engaged in the Hong Kong Christmas spirit as he prepares to renew a fruitful relationship with Winning Faith in the Class 2 Mercury Handicap.
“The big difference about being in Hong Kong at this time of year is there’s no snow, so you don’t feel the atmosphere until you put the up the tree, play the music and start the shopping,” he said.
“Winning Faith’s rating was lower when I won two races on him at around this time last year. He felt as if he needed it when I rode him in a trial last week, but he seemed keener and fresh when I galloped him on Sunday morning and a good pace would be perfect as he always takes a bit of time to get balanced.”
Turin Redstar is likely to be one of those helping force a true pace ahead of Winning Faith but jockey Derek Leung’s hopes for a low gate were dashed as one of Hong Kong’s most consistent horses drew stall 10.
“He keeps running so well but he’s been going up in the ratings for finishing second and I was hoping for a lower barrier,” he said.
Leung replaces the suspended Grant van Niekerk aboard Little Bird in the Class 3 Venus Handicap (1200m) and a fair draw and the return of cheekpieces give Leung hope that Ricky Yiu’s speedy gelding can return to his best.
“Little Bird didn’t finish off his race last time but he was drawn wide in stall 12,” he said. “Stall six doesn’t look too bad this time and he felt good when I won a trial on him at Sha Tin a couple of weeks ago.”
Moore hoping low draw makes for a Happy Dragon Christmas
Moore and fellow trainer John Size have had plenty to celebrate in 2018 and it would come as no surprise to see one or both in the winner’s enclosure again at the Valley’s last meeting of the year.
Moore headed off for a short break in Thailand on Sunday and is hoping for a good draw and better luck for Happy Dragon in the Class 3 Mars Handicap (1650m).
His wish came with stall three and Moore is hoping that having bang-in-form Silvestre de Sousa aboard for the first time provides an added plus.
“Happy Dragon has had traffic problems on two occasions at the Valley,” he said. “He should have picked up a win by now but de Sousa is one of the strongest out there and coming back to a mile with a bit of cushion in the ground is probably up his alley.”
Size brings two of his successful Conghua team back to town when Bank On Red and Red Warrior contest the Mars Handicap and the Mercury Handicap respectively, while lightly-raced Special Stars bids to follow up a win on International Jockey Challenge night in the Class 4 Jupiter Handicap (1000m).
“Red Warrior has been at Conghua for a while and seems to like it there,” the champion trainer said.
“He was a bit unlucky to be beaten right on the line last time and will probably go well again, while Special Stars improved from his first to his second start to win quite handsomely and he’s probably got another win in him.”