By Andrew Hawkins
Trainer Chris So has had a memorable start to the 2016/17 season and the fourth-season handler hopes to continue his good recent run of form with Team Fortune in Thursday (22 December) night’s closer at Happy Valley, the Class 2 Mercury Handicap (1200m).
So currently leads the trainers’ championship with 25 wins after 30 meetings, and he believes that he has the firepower in his stable to still continue his hot streak.
“It’s been great,” So said with his trademark grin at Sha Tin on Tuesday morning. “I just hope I can train more winners in the next couple of months, I’ve got a couple of nice horses so we always hope!”
Team Fortune (121lb) has been a rejuvenated galloper this season as he has taken to the Sha Tin all-weather track with ease, notching three wins and a narrow second from four tries on the surface.
However, he returns to turf as he heads to Happy Valley for the first time on Thursday night, with the trainer saying that the horse’s options are now limited off a mark of 87.
“After his last run, he went up three points and so there aren’t many races for him on dirt,” So said about the five-year-old’s last-start defeat at the hands of Archippus on 4 December. “There is an all-dirt meeting at Sha Tin in January but there are only races for horses rated 90 and above and horses rated below 85, so he would not get into either of them! That’s why I had to ask the owner whether we could run at Happy Valley.
“I think he should handle it because the horse’s performance is very good this term and even though the draw (nine) is not ideal, I think he should run well. I do think he is better on dirt but there aren’t other options now. But given how he is going, I think he should handle the turf also.”
Team Fortune faces a highly competitive field, including three last-start Valley winners in Verbinsky (121lb), Super Turbo (116lb) and elevated standby starter Molly’s Jade Star (120lb).
Verbinsky will have Neil Callan back aboard again, the Irishman having done much of the work on the four-year-old before he managed to find the winners’ circle this season.
“It’s quite frustrating, this horse,” Callan said. “I’d ridden him quite a few times here at Sha Tin, got beaten short distances on him. When he jumped and went to Happy Valley, I was committed to another horse and couldn’t get off it. My bad luck was Douglas Whyte’s good luck, he got on him and won twice, but I always knew going to the Valley would switch his mind on. I think the straight at Sha Tin is a little bit long for him.
“I think he’s still got plenty of upside to him and he’s pulled a good gate (5). It is a competitive race but I’m sure he can hold his own.”
The Class 2 Mercury Handicap (1200m) is set to jump at 10:50pm.
Prawn Baba a Size delicacy with step up in trip
It is rare to see a John Size runner stepping out over 2200m at just their third start, especially a horse who has finished in the placings at his first two starts, but that is the position that Prawn Baba will find himself in when he contests Thursday night’s Class 3 Mars Handicap at Happy Valley.
Reigning champion trainer Size would more often than not keep a horse at a distance until he is certain they are looking for further, which makes it even more surprising to see Prawn Baba (132lb) heading the field for the 2200m Class 3.
Prawn Baba has finished second at both starts to date, just failing to run down Classic Emperor in a slowly-run 1600m Class 3 on 12 November before finding Happy Place too good in another 1600m Class 3 on 27 November.
However, jockey Zac Purton feels the Australian import – who won two of his four starts in Victoria when named Get The Dukes Out – is racing like a horse in need of a longer trip, which is why he believes the rare 2200m Class 3 at the city track will suit the four-year-old.
“He’s appeared as if he’s a little bit one-paced in his races,” Purton said at Sha Tin trackwork on Tuesday (20 December). “Until they run over the distance, you can never be 100 per cent confident that they will handle it but he gives the impression he should.
“This looks like it’s a suitable race for him. He’s drawn well (four), his trial here the other day was quite good, he left the impression that there was a little bit more there, and he’s obviously lightly-raced so hopefully he’s got everything ahead of him.”
For Purton, the horse’s mid-race demeanour could not have differed more at each of his first two starts.
“It was an odd run last time out, actually they both were,” he said. “First-up, he seemed to travel quite keen, he hit that flat spot but kept coming. And then when I rode him the other day, I know it was a faster run race but he was very relaxed throughout the race so I really had to wake him up. I always felt he was going to get there but obviously he didn’t, he just kept whacking away at the one pace and was slowly grinding away. So he gave the impression that a longer distance would suit and here we are.”
The son of Duke Of Marmalade meets an intriguing line-up headed by David Hall-trained Victory Boys (121lb), who has recorded three wins and three seconds at his last six starts and also steps up to the 2200m for the first time.
The Class 3 Mars Handicap (2200m) is the night’s sixth event and is scheduled to jump at 9:45pm, with the opener, the second section of the Class 4 Saturn Handicap (1650m), due to get underway at 7:15pm.
Verbinsky landed his first Class 2 win over 1200m at Happy Valley last time out.
Prawn Baba (pink and purple silks) ran a solid second to Happy Place in a Class 3 over 1600m on 27 November.