By Andrew Hawkins
Winning four races in a term under Hong Kong’s handicap system is a tough ask for any horse, with only 10 horses achieving the feat so far this season. What Else But You and Packing Dragon are both aiming to join the exclusive club in Wednesday night’s (10 May) Class 2 Cornwall Handicap (1800m), but both had no favours after the barrier draw, coming up with gates 11 and 12 respectively.
John Size-trained What Else But You (123lb) won three races over the Sha Tin 1600m in February and March. His one try over 1800m came at Sha Tin at what was his second start, weakening into eighth after racing keenly. However, regular rider Karis Teetan believes it is worth forgetting that performance with the Happy Valley 1800m a different test to its Sha Tin equivalent.
“I feel he is a better horse at Sha Tin but he strikes me as the type of horse who could be suited to the 1800m at Happy Valley,” Teetan said at Sha Tin trackwork on Tuesday morning (9 May). “The 1800m should be better for him now anyway, and especially at Happy Valley with the wide gate. Over the 1650m last time out I had to restrain him right back because it’s a quick run to the first turn, and he still finished off nicely but he was never really in it.
“This time, from the 1800m, he has a longer run to the turn out of the straight and it will give me a bit more time to see what’s happening with the pace early. Packing Dragon has drawn outside me and he will probably go forward, so I might be able to track him across.”
What Else But You finished third in a 1200m dirt barrier trial last Friday (5 May), with Teetan feeling the Duporth four-year-old is in good condition.
“The horse is very well,” the Mauritian rider said. “I trialled him last week and he came through that very well. It will be interesting to see where he sits. When he won before, he had good draws, things went his way, he was able to get cover and he finished off well. Now, he has to prove he can win when things aren’t going his way, but he’s still maturing and I think he might go even higher next season.”
This season’s Happy Valley Million Challenge winner Packing Dragon (132lb) returns to the city track on Wednesday night after finishing seventh in a Class 2 over 2200m at Sha Tin last start.
All five of Packing Dragon’s wins have come at Happy Valley, three of them over the 1800m, and the Mastercraftsman half-brother to two-time Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon is reunited with Chad Schofield, who is unbeaten from one ride on the galloper – a Class 1 over 1650m in February.
“He’s clearly a Happy Valley horse – when he comes to Sha Tin, he doesn’t quite perform as well, but his form at Happy Valley is exceptional,” Schofield said. “He’s a very consistent horse there, he seems to like the turns and he can really roll off the bends and keep a strong gallop up.”
Unlike Teetan, Schofield is not concerned about the wide gate for Packing Dragon, believing that his gate speed will allow him to negate the wide berth.
“He’s a notable front-runner, but whether he leads or sits in the first three depends on the pace of the race,” Schofield said. “I will have to look at it closer, but he is drawn wide so I will roll forward and see how the race pans out. It doesn’t concern me, though – when I won the final leg of the Happy Valley Million Challenge, he drew very wide that day too. He’s got gate speed, as he showed that day, and he’s able to overcome the draw quite quickly. After that, he relaxes well and gets into a very nice rhythm. He’s always strong to the line and honest.
Trainer Ricky Yiu has made a subtle gear change, switching the blinkers that Packing Dragon has worn at 16 of his 21 starts to a similar visor. Schofield trialled the gelding in the headgear on 28 April, recording a three-quarter length “win” over 1200m on the dirt.
“He trialled very well,” Schofield said. “They flew along and it became a trial in two, the three leaders and then five of us bunched together. When they tired, he just hit top gear and he kept coming and coming. It was a very strong trial. That has me thinking that he’s not far off the mark he was at when I won the Class 1 on him in February and if he’s there, he’ll be a good chance.”
Other gallopers in the 12-horse field include another Happy Valley Million Challenge winner in Speedy Longwah (129lb), as well as Dynamism (130lb), Winnie’s Honey (130lb), Friends Of Ka Ying (123lb) and Big Bang Bong (120lb).
The Class 2 Cornwall Handicap (1800m) is the seventh of eight races and is scheduled to jump at 10:15pm, with the opener, the Class 5 Suffolk Handicap (1000m), due to begin at 7:15pm.
What Else But You completes a hat-trick of wins with Karis Teetan aboard at his penultimate start.
Packing Dragon (inside) holds off Circuit Land to seal his Happy Valley Million Challenge title in February.