By Andrew Hawkins
Trainer John Moore freely admits that he did not expect anything much from Hinchinbrook gelding Isaac when the Australian import first stepped foot in his yard in May last year, certainly not enough when considering some of the other four-year-olds in his stable.
But with the bay gelding now searching for his third consecutive win in the Class 3 Connaught Handicap (1200m) at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (25 January), the handler says he has been forced to change his opinion dramatically.
“His progression has been really something, he’s been a surprise packet!” Moore said at trackwork on Tuesday morning (24 January). “When he arrived, he looked like a youngster that just needed time to fill into himself. He just didn’t strike me as impressive, he wasn’t impressive in any way, he looked so plain and I didn’t know what we had to work with.
“But in the last few months, the way he’s physically improved and what he’s doing in his races, he’s now one of the more exciting, progressive horses in the stable.”
Isaac (121lb) made his official debut at Happy Valley on 16 November, finishing fifth to John Size-trained D B Pin, beaten three and a quarter lengths. However, he has impressed for two Class 4 victories since, a length and a quarter success at start two on 14 December before a commanding two and a quarter length triumph at the top of the grade on 4 January.
The nine-point ratings rise sees him make his Class 3 debut near the middle of the grade, but Moore believes that he deserves to be the public elect in Wednesday night’s race, with Zac Purton to jump aboard once again from the inside draw.
“He’ll be a short price and justifiably so, but he’s just going in the right direction physically and mentally,” Moore said. “Drawing the gun gate, gate one, it’s going to make him very hard to beat again. As Zac said last start, he’s not a Class 4 horse. He’s now in Class 3, but I think he’s going even further – he looks like he’s destined for Class 2.”
Isaac meets a competitive sprint field at the city circuit, with just one horse making his track debut. That horse is Danny Shum-trained Most Beautiful, the former Perth galloper having his third Hong Kong start and his first down in Class 3.
Nash Rawiller jumps aboard Most Beautiful (133lb) for the first time on raceday and believes the son of Blackfriars has the right temperament to handle the switch to Happy Valley.
“He’s a horse I’ve had a lot to do with since he first arrived in Hong Kong and he’s always shown tremendous ability,” the jockey said. “I think it’s a good move by Danny to take him there (Happy Valley). I’ve got no doubt he’ll handle it, he’s very adaptable and although he’s lightly-raced here, he came here with a perfect attitude. Going to Happy Valley should give him a little bit of an edge to use his good manners and hopefully that will make the difference.
“He’s only a little horse, so carrying a big weight at the top of Class 3 isn’t ideal, but he does meet an easier race so we’re hopeful.”
The Connaught Handicap is the eighth race on the nine-race card and is due to jump at 10:15pm.
Andoyas to break run of outs for horse and handler
Earlier in the night, Purton will link up with trainer David Hall as Andoyas aims to break a long drought – both for himself and for his handler – in the Class 3 Murray Handicap (2200m), scheduled for 7:45pm.
German import Andoyas (123lb) arrived in Hong Kong with good form, having finished fourth in the G2 German 2,000 Guineas in 2014, but through three outings in his homeland and 14 starts in his new base, his sole win remains a maiden victory at Cologne on debut.
The six-year-old has appeared in rude health so far this season though, a first-up fifth to Sunny Win over 1650m followed by an eye-catching second to Easy Hedge over 1800m last time out.
He meets John Size’s Easy Hedge again, this time eight pounds better at the weights, and Purton believes the son of Lando will be suited by the step up in trip third-up.
“It’s probably the first time that we’ve had him at a distance and finally drawn a barrier when he’s been in nice form,” Purton said. “He’s going to get a nice run and it gives him his chance to finally win one. The distance is not a problem, he’ll run it out strong.
“He’s going well in his work, he’s really picked up recently and I think he’s going better at the moment than he’s gone this season.”
Andoyas is one of five runners on the card for Hall, who has had a quiet period of late and has not prepared a winner since 23 November. The trainer has sent out 15 placegetters in that time, though, including Gracydad (129lb), who has finished third at his past four starts and steps out again in the second section of the Class 4 Club Street Handicap (1200m).
Another was Hard Ball Get (116lb), who finished second at his last start in mid-December and returns to the track for the night’s Cup race, the Class 3 Hong Kong Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1650m).
Hard Ball Get has only won once in his 30 Hong Kong starts, a Sha Tin Class 4 victory in December, 2015, but raceday rider Karis Teetan thinks he is a chance in an open affair.
“His last run was a very good run, he finished off very strongly,” Teetan said. “He does come from off the pace so drawing wide isn’t an issue, he enjoys being left alone before finishing off. The horse is going well, he had a short break after his last run. I’ve done some work on him recently and he’s feeling fresh again.”
The Hong Kong Club Challenge Cup Handicap is the seventh race on the card and is slated for 9:45pm, with the first, the Class 5 Edinburgh Handicap (1000m), due to jump at 6:45pm.
Issac lands back-to-back triumphs at the course and distance last start.
Hard Ball Get breaks his local maiden in a Class 4 race last season.