By David Morgan
Hong Kong horses have dominated the Hong Kong Macau Trophy (1400m) since the interport contest was first staged in 2004, the locals having repelled the Macanese raiders every year bar two. Trainer Ricky Yiu has had the Class 1 handicap in mind for his rising star Jolly Banner (125lb) ever since the five-year-old ran second to the re-opposing Invincible Dragon (125lb) in mid-January.
And with a 9lb pull for that short-head defeat, Yiu and jockey Chad Schofield are confident of a bold show in the 14-runner contest which is race seven on Sunday’s 11-race card.
“I’m very happy with him, he’s a nice horse and a horse that always tries to please you,” Yiu said. “We deliberately wanted to give him a longer break between his runs. Soon after his last race we looked at the programme and pinpointed this race. And he has a better draw than in recent races.”
Jolly Banner won his first three starts this term, all at the course and distance, before that second-place effort. Schofield took the reins at start two and his been ever-present since. The jockey drew the marble at Thursday’s barrier draw and came up with gate four.
“I’m happy with that draw, he’s a good chance,” Schofield said. “I do think he’s still progressing and I love the fact that Ricky’s looked after him and spaced his runs. He performs well fresh. We gave him a nice, quiet trial on the dirt last week and he’s in very good order.”
But Sam Clipperton is looking forward to renewing rivalry atop the John Moore-trained Invincible Dragon, runner-up under top-weight in a 1600m Class 2 behind BMW Hong Kong Derby hope Gold Mount last Sunday.
“He’s a lovely horse and he has plenty of ability,” he said. “He’s backing up from last Sunday where he ran a gallant second over 1600 and I think the drop back to 1400 will suit. He hit the front and probably just peaked on his run at the mile. I think 1400 is his pet distance, his work has been great, he looks a picture, he’s proven in this class and I’m confident about his chances on Sunday.”
Chris So, meanwhile, is equally confident that his Racing Supernova (127lb) will take all of the beating under Joao Moreira. The five-year-old will break from gate one.
“Seriously, I'm quite confident about him going into Sunday. I think he's still improving, I don't think I've had him as fit as I've got him now,” he said from Dubai where he is overseeing Fabulous One’s run at Meydan on Super Saturday (4 March).
“The form seems to be holding up around him too, and he was good last time out, he ran well but was only beaten a half-length. His last few starts have been smaller fields and now he gets into a full field.
“The Macau horses usually go out quick too, so I think he should get cover, save ground, probably race a little bit closer than he has been and hopefully he can come at them late. The horse is funny, though; his strength is inside the final 400m so you can't ask him for too much too soon. I will be watching from Dubai, so hopefully he can make it a big weekend for our stable!”
The last Macau horse to win the race was Viva Pronto for Gary Moore in 2010, although last year The Alfonso ran on for a close second behind Dashing Fellow, who will carry top-weight of 133lb this time around. Moore’s son, James Moore, will attempt to halt the Hong Kong domination with Kelowna Star (113lb), a winner of three from 15 at Taipa. But the handler is realistic about the task facing all six Macau runners.
“We’ve got pretty good form around The Alfonso – it was a weaker race last year with a fair share of the Hong Kong horses having their issues and The Alfonso ran second,” he said.
“On paper there’s going to be a lot of speed in the race and that will be ideal for my horse. The longer straight will be a huge benefit for him; he takes a while to wind up. That short straight in Macau isn’t ideal but he’s still been performing highly.
“He’ll be hitting the line well and if he can run a place I’ll be over the moon. Hong Kong has strong contenders this year, though, a lot stronger than I expected. If you threw him into last year’s race he’d be running a place.”
Sunday’s 11-race action kicks off at 12.30pm with the Class 4 Guia Hill Handicap (1200m). The Class 1 Hong Kong Macau Trophy is race seven, due off at 3.35pm. The Class 1 Friendship Bridge Handicap (1000m), featuring Peniaphobia, Amber Sky, Not Listenin’tome and Mr Stunning, is race three, due off at 1.30m, and the concluding race is the Class 2 Taipa Handicap (1800m) at 5.50pm, which features BMW Hong Kong Derby entrants Limitless, Circuit Hassler, Prawn Baba, Raghu and Who Dat Singa.
Jolly Banner completes a hat-trick of wins this season on its penultimate start.
Racing Supernova wins the Panasonic Cup with Joao Moreira on board earlier this season.