Singapore Sling (123lb) returns to Happy Valley tonight (6 January) for the first time since December 2017 with jockey Chad Schofield hoping the gelding can maintain his unblemished record at the city circuit in the Group 3 January Cup Handicap (1800m).
“I think it looks a lovely race for him – he’s been competing at the top-level in Hong Kong for at least two or three seasons now and he just found it a little bit tough after his four-year-old year but he’s very well weighted in this Group 3 at Happy Valley – he has a good draw and I think everything looks suitable,” Schofield said.
Following a trial effort at Sha Tin in December, connections opted to run in tonight’s HK$3.5 million contest rather than face Hong Kong’s best and the might of the Japanese, French and Irish in December’s HK$28 million Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m).
“I rode him in a trial leading up to the Hong Kong Cup and the connections chose not to run him and instead concentrate on tonight – so hopefully it’s the right move,” the 26-year-old said.
Since Singapore Sling’s one and only visit to Happy Valley – which resulted in a win – he has won the 2018 Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m), finished second in that same year’s BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m), placed in the 2019 Group 1 FWD Champions Mile to Beauty Generation and finished third in the 2019 SIN Group 1 Kranji Mile (1600m) at Kranji Racecourse in Singapore.
But since those exploits at home and abroad as a four and five-year-old, the now seven-year-old has managed only five runs across an 18-month period, largely due to injuries but has returned for three runs this term, finishing eighth, tenth and sixth.
“He trialled very well – he was strong through the line and he won a Class 2 over 1650 metres at Happy Valley prior to winning the Hong Kong Classic Cup and his second in the Derby, so he’s won there before and he trialled well there the other day – I’m looking forward to the race,” Schofield said.
Schofield will break from gate three atop the Tony Millard-trainee against a field of nine others and did previously drive him to one of his two-career wins.
“Those three runs – the Classic Mile, Classic Cup and Derby – was when he was at peak fitness and he was at the top of his game, the season after that year he raced really well, he ran second and fourth to Beauty Generation when he was also at his best and he did well in Singapore too, so he’s a horse who has featured in the best races for a number of years,” Schofield said.
“He’s a bit older now but stepping back to Group 3 grade looks suitable,” he added.
Also in the race is the Douglas Whyte-trained Savvy Nine (119lb), who like Singapore Sling, has taken a liking to Happy Valley in the past.
The French-bred five-year-old has had two runs at the city circuit for a second and third, finishing no worse than a half-length behind the winner, including his most recent outing on LONGINES International Jockeys’ Championship night (9 December, 2020).
“I thought he ran well – Ryan (Moore) got off and said he wished that he had known him a bit better, he probably took a little bit longer to get going than he anticipated but I was happy with the way he hit the line,” Whyte said.
“I think the key to him is a little bit more give in the ground, he would prefer it if there was rain about but he’s indicating that he’s doing things correctly – he’s not the simplest horse but he’s certainly going along well at the moment.
“He’s held his form, he hasn’t done much in between runs, he’s just ticked over really so he’s in similar form to last time and there is no reason to suggest why he shouldn’t produce that again,” Whyte said.
Simply Brilliant seeks January Cup redemption
After winning the 2019 edition of the race, the Frankie Lor-trained Simply Brilliant (132lb) will look to recapture his crown in the Group 3 January Cup Handicap (1800m) as one of two entries for his handler, who also saddles Reliable Team (114lb).
“I hope so (to winning the race again), he looks to have improved after his last two runs and the 1600 to 1800 metres is what he needs,” Lor said.
A six-time winner from 26 Hong Kong starts, the Frankel gelding had a fetlock issue mid-last year and, since that win three starts ago, has only raced twice.
“His last two runs were in strong races – he was not too bad, I know he finished second last and last but he needs to race to keep fit and he’s improving but this time he’ll carry a big weight though,” Lor said.
The gelding finished ninth in last month’s Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile (1600m) to Golden Sixty and did so with Derek Leung in the plate, who will again take the reins tonight from gate six.
“He feels a bit better, he had an injury so he was off for a while then he only had a couple of trials and he was up against the best horses in his last two races,” Leung said. “His fitness has improved – he’s not 100 percent fit yet but with the right position I think he can still run well.”
Lor – who sits second in the trainers’ championship with 30 wins – also readies Reliable Team, who will pair with championship-leading jockey Joao Moreira from gate eight.
“He’s one-paced but with a light weight it’s suitable for him – he needs to be forward in the run,” Lor said.
Alexis Badel, who drove Simply Brilliant to victory in his Group 3 score in 2019, heads to Happy Valley as the only jockey with a full book of rides and this year will partner the Danny Shum-trained Harmony Victory (129lb), who sets off from gate four in the feature.
“He feels good, he feels as if he is in good form, just the question mark is how he is going to jump from the gate because he’s not the best behaved in the gates – he’s stays in but if he can jump well then I think he is going to run well,” Badel said.
Murray’s Partners aims to keep on rising
The Dennis Yip-trained Murray’s Partners (120lb) has made a remarkable ascent up the handicap since his first win five starts ago and tonight he’ll shoot for a hat-trick of wins in the Class 3 Cleveland Handicap (1800m).
With four wins from his last five starts, the gelding has risen to a rating of 67, 23 points higher than his career-low mark and jockey Karis Teetan has been in the plate for each of his triumphs.
“I’m pretty happy with the way the horse is going, he keeps on improving, things are getting harder for him now, he’ll carry more weight but the horse is in good shape so that’s a good positive sign,” Teetan said.
The gelding won at his first try in Class 3 last time out, and tonight faces 11 opponents including Enrichment (131lb), Arrogant (130lb), last start winner Celestial Power (130lb) and Beauty Angel (121lb).