by David Morgan
Hong Kong’s new season kicks off on Saturday (3 September) with a 10-race card that features a class-packed edition of the traditional first-day showcase, the HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup.
The 1200m Class 1 handicap has attracted a field of 11 that includes a clutch of the Hong Kong circuit’s most exciting emerging talents in Blizzard, Packing Pins, Lucky Year and Dashing Fellow, an old-time Group 1 star in Amber Sky and last year’s victor, I’m In Charge.
Blizzard (117lb), Packing Pins (133lb) and Amber Sky (119lb) will all go to post for Ricky Yiu, a trainer in search of a first Chief Executive’s Cup victory.
“Three against eight,” said Yiu. “But these three - I hope they’ll all finish in the first four!”
The handler delivered that sound-bite with a breezy levity that masked only partially an underlying belief that his hand is strong. “All three of mine will run well because each one of them has trialled well,” he added.
Blizzard - third in the HKG1 Hong Kong Classic Mile and HKG1 Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) last term - and G1 Champions Mile third Packing Pins, a duo touted as imminent front-rankers, cruised alongside one another through an eye-catching turf barrier trial at the Jockey Club’s Pre-season Carnival last Saturday (27 August).
“Blizzard was very good over 1000 metres on Carnival night and he had Packing Pins travelling very nicely alongside him,” said Yiu. “Blizzard will run well fresh and he’ll love the distance.”
The pair finished third and fourth in that trial behind another CE Cup contender, Dashing Fellow (122lb), with Packing Pins ending nicely on a full tank. The latter, however, is likely to be seen at his best over farther than Saturday’s 1200m, whereas Blizzard, seeking to extend his winning partnership with jockey Karis Teetan to five, is stepping back down to the distance at which he has notched four of his six Hong Kong wins, and is in receipt of a handy 16lb from his stablemate.
Amber Sky, once the speed demon of Hong Kong racing and victorious in the 2014 G1 Al Quoz Spint in Dubai (1000m), has attempted 1200m around Sha Tin six times without ever troubling the judge. At age seven he finds himself winless since that glory night at Meydan but is on his lowest mark since October, 2013 and has the benefit of debutant apprentice Dylan Mo’s 10lb claim.
“Amber Sky went really well in his trial the week before and he showed good dash. The new boy rides him on Saturday,” said Yiu, adding a candid, “that takes off an extra 10 pounds and he’ll need it, especially from gate 10.
“I wanted to put Chad Schofield on Packing Pins but he’s suspended - Alex Lai has been riding the Lee family horses for the Peter Ho stable, so Alex will take the ride on him.”
Trainer Caspar Fownes has won this race in the past with G1 stars Lucky Nine and The Duke and he is responsible for Dundonnell (126lb) and I’m In Charge (113lb) whose rider will take off a further 2lb. Dundonnell impressed when accelerating down the stretch to “win” a 1200m all-weather barrier trial on 23 August. I’m In Charge has failed to make the frame since handing Fownes a third win in this a year ago but is now down to a rating five points lower than that occasion, but even with the added benefit of Ben So’s 2lb allowance, the gelding finds himself 3lb out of the handicap.
Joao Moreira’s improving mount Lucky Year (117lb) - another that went well in the Carnival trial - Born In China (114lb), Divine Boy (113lb), with Derek Leung set to take off a further 2lb, Key Witness (113lb), and 2014 victor Golden Harvest (113lb) whose burden will be lightened by a further 7lb thanks to Kei Chiong’s allowance, add to the competitiveness, as does the John Moore-trained Dashing Fellow, a first feature race ride for new face Sam Clipperton on his first day riding in Hong Kong.
Clipperton has a solid book of seven rides to kick off his three-month contract and Dashing Fellow appears to be a good chance in the Class 1 with the young Australian ace expecting the five-year-old to run “a very bold race”.
The jockey said: “He’s very much a push-button ride, he was the ultimate professional last Saturday; he bounced well out of the barriers, he was in the first three and then cruised to the line under his own steam.
“I expect a big run from him on Saturday even though he’s stepping back to 1200 metres, which probably isn’t his ideal distance. But he’s had that short break through the summer to freshen up and he’ll be holding his residual fitness from late last season, so I think he’ll be one of the fittest horses in the race and one of the toughest, for sure.”
Saturday’s racing action commences with the Class 5 Tim Mei Handicap at 1pm, in which Clipperton is booked to ride the David Ferraris-trained Happy Three. The HKSAR Chief Executive’s Cup is race three on the card, at 2pm, and the day concludes with the Class 2 Albert Handicap at 5.45pm.
Blizzard lands the Chinese Recreation Club Challenge Cup (1200m) first-up last season with Karis Teetan on board.