Three into one won’t go and something has to give as the chase for the last of 12 spots in a star-studded International Jockeys’ Championship concludes at Happy Valley this Wednesday (21 November).
Reigning IJC champion Zac Purton and Karis Teetan head the home challenge for the 5 December showpiece, while Vincent Ho will also square off against previous winners like Ryan Moore and Hugh Bowman.
Matthew Poon leads the race for the coveted final spot with 14 wins on the board but his latest ban means opportunity knocks for Douglas Whyte and Chad Schofield, who both stand just one adrift.
The fact that Whyte and Schofield have ridden more seconds than Poon means just one winner could be enough to earn an IJC place and their internal duel provides an intriguing subplot on a card which sees them have five rides each.
Whyte has a formidable IJC record with three wins (2002, 2007 and 2008) and is eager to pit his skills against a very different group of riders than the one he saw off for his first success.
“I think Mick Kinane, Kieren Fallon, Damien Oliver and Frankie Dettori were here back then but the IJC is one of the pinnacle evenings at Happy Valley and it’s a great event to be part of,” he said.
“My main goal for now is to get a place – and once you are in you’ve always got a shot provided you can get on a couple of live horses with decent draws.”
Whyte’s prospects of earning a shot at a fourth IJC crown involve several live horses on Wednesday night, though a couple come with questions to answer, including the David Ferraris pair Burst Away and London Master.
“Burst Away has been running pretty well but unfortunately he can’t draw a gate,” Whyte said. “He has a heavy weight and gate nine so that’s a big question mark, while London Master gets back in his races and that’s just the way you have to ride him.”
Whyte is reunited with John Moore’s Happy Dragon in race seven after a troubled run up the inside at the Valley recently, while Francis Lui’s Iron Boy has drawn well in stall two in the finale.
“Happy Dragon was unlucky last time,” he said. “I would have gone very close to winning had the run eventuated so he’s in great form, and Iron Boy is a solid horse who has drawn a good marble in stall two so that’s going to help his chances.”
Whyte feels the race for the IJC prize could go down to the wire and is well aware that he currently has one more second place than Schofield, which could be decisive if it comes to a countback.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the last IJC place was still up for grabs coming into the last race,” he said. “But I’ve got the gloves on so let’s hope for a good battle!”
Khaki could hold Schofield’s IJC key
Schofield hopes to strike early when the progressive Khaki bids to follow up an impressive Valley success in race three.
The five-year-old is a recent recruit to Tony Millard and, like many before him, has found form quickly for his new handler. Schofield was in the irons when he forged clear at the Valley last month and is expecting another big run despite a seven-point rise.
“Khaki’s work leading into that win was good and he kicked away at the line,” he said. “He has more weight this time but he stays in Class 4 and I hope he can win for me again.”
Schofield partners in-form horses in the last two races of the evening in My Ally and Telecom Brothers. The latest in a series of wide draws for My Ally poses a tactical challenge in race seven, but Schofield is just as keen as Whyte to secure an IJC spot.
He added: “I need a winner or two, but this is my fourth season in Hong Kong now and it would be great to earn a place in the IJC for the first time.”
Har Har bids to have the last laugh
Silvestre de Sousa is in positive mood after landing Sunday’s Jockey Club Cup aboard Eagle Way and is expecting a bold run from Har Har Heart in race five.
The Brazilian partnered John Size’s gelding into a promising fourth behind Let’s Take It Easy at the Valley two weeks ago and feels a much better draw can help him reverse the form.
“It’s every man for himself from the gate in Hong Kong and they don’t give you a life belt,” he joked. “John told me to ride him to get home last time but from stall 12 we got going too late. Stall two is much better this time and I like his chances.”
Jockey Umberto Rispoli, meanwhile, acknowledged that Let’s Take It Easy could be up against it from stall 11 as he takes on Har Har Heart again.
Wednesday’s action starts at 7.15pm with the Class 5 Bank Street Handicap (1800m).