By David Morgan
Thewizardofoz (133lb) is set to shoulder top-weight in the season’s final Group race at Sha Tin on Sunday, 25 June, the G3 Premier Cup Handicap (1400m), and Joao Moreira, not for the first time, is placing his faith in the John Size-trained galloper.
“He’s got a good chance,” the champion jockey said. “He’s getting back to his best form and I still think he’s a very nice horse. There was a time there when his form dropped and he wasn’t able to deliver. I even took him ahead of a couple of really good horses earlier in the season because I thought he was the best one, and I can’t be 100 percent wrong in thinking that.”
Moreira has won five races in tandem with the talented Redoute’s Choice galloper, but each time the Brazilian ace has sided with the bay in higher grades, he has come up short: fifth in the Hong Kong Classic Mile and 10th in the G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) last season, and 11th in the G2 Premier Bowl Handicap (1200m) to kick off this campaign.
On Sunday, horse and rider reunite for the first time in a race since October’s Premier Bowl reversal. Size gave the five-year-old plenty of time off after that below-par effort, the bay returning in April for a late season campaign.
Having returned invigorated, Thewizardofoz heads into Sunday on the back of two smart recent efforts: fourth in this season’s G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) and a length third when conceding12lb and more to Lucky Year and D B Pin in the G3 Sha Tin Vase Handicap (1200m) late last month.
“His last run was really good, he finished in front of some really nice horses and he just needs to repeat,” said Moreira, who takes the reins from Chad Schofield.
“Being a handicap race, that makes it a bit tough for him but if he’s able to show his best, he’s a winning chance,” he continued. “Even giving that weight to the others, he’s got a great chance on the ratings; the weight gives the others a chance to beat him but if he’s at his best he’s still a winning chance. Physically, he can handle a big weight - he’s carried it before and was able to win, so I don’t think that will be an issue for him.”
Winner’s Way’s rolling for Purton
The field of eight also features the Tony Cruz-trained Winner’s Way (120lb) who provides a form link to this season’s Four-Year-Old Classic Series. Tony Cruz’s charge, fifth behind Rapper Dragon in the Hong Kong Classic Mile, has won his last two starts, an impressive all-the-way Class 2 score over 1650m at Happy Valley and an authoritative course and distance Class 1 win six weeks ago, both under Zac Purton.
“He gets in with a nice weight, which is good and he’s got a nice draw, which is obviously going to help him as well,” Purton said. “He’s in good form so it’s the right time for him to be testing himself at this level and I’m sure he’s going to run well.”
Winner’s Way, four from nine in Hong Kong, made all in a recent 1200m all-weather barrier trial at Sha Tin, rolling home a half-length ahead of the closing Thewizardofoz, with Pakistan Star a close third.
“I thought his barrier trial was nice, he got out of the gates nice, he showed good speed, so there wasn’t anything not to like about it,” the former champion jockey said.
“With his style being a little bit of a free roller, it’s easier at this distance. I think free-rolling at a longer distance just stretches his stamina a bit - 1400 metres or a mile I think is right for him.”
And Purton is hopeful that the Starcraft gelding can find improvement into next season whatever Sunday’s result.
“He’s just starting to fulfil his real potential now,” he said. “He’s always shown he’s got something there and he was trying a couple of things wrong in his races but he’s starting to iron those out now and the success has come for him. Whatever he’s doing at the moment, you’d like to think he’s going to be a little bit better next season.”
The smart line-up also features last year’s winner and champion miler Sun Jewellery (125lb) from the Size camp, as well as the John Moore stable’s exciting three-year-old Magic Legend (118lb), seeking a fifth win at start seven. Moore will also saddle last year’s runner-up, Dashing Fellow (122lb), a seven-time course and distance winner.
The gutsy New Asia Sunrise (113lb) is set to line-up for trainer Me Tsui on the back of a Class 2 course and distance win last time, while stablemate Adventurer (113lb) seeks a first victory beyond 1000m. The smart and consistent Jolly Banner (113lb) will bid for a fifth course and distance triumph for trainer Ricky Yiu.
Eastern Express aims to derail Pakistan Star
Earlier on the 10-race card, six will go to post for the day’s other feature, the G3 Premier Plate Handicap (1800m), headed by Pakistan Star (133lb). The Shamardal four-year-old is expected to start a warm order off the back of a close second to Neorealism in the G1 APQEII Cup (2000m) at the end of April, but Schofield is hoping to cause an upset on the useful Eastern Express (120lb).
“No horse is unbeatable but you’ve got to say Pakistan Star looks hard to beat. But my horse is very honest, he’s getting a lot of weight off Pakistan Star and he’s rock hard fit, too,” the rider said.
Schofield has not ridden Eastern Express in a race but he liked what he saw in the Fastnet Rock gelding’s most recent performance, a boxing-on second to Booming Delight in the G3 Lion Rock Trophy Handicap (1600m). Two starts prior to that, the Size trainee landed a mile Class 2 but he has good form at Sunday’s trip and beyond, winning at the course and distance last term and running a solid third in the 2016 Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m).
“His last run was really good, he was very strong through the line, looking for the 1800 - I’d think the 1800m would be the ideal for him. It’s a small field, he’s going to get a lovely run and hopefully Pakistan Star’s going to have to bring his ‘A’ game,” Schofield said.
The Premier Plate also features November’s G3 Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse (1800m) winner Horse Of Fortune (130lb) from the Tony Millard stable, a solid second to Winner’s Way over 1400m last time out.
As well as Pakistan Star, Cruz will saddle Romantic Touch (130lb) and Anticipation (113lb), while 2015 winner Harbour Master (126lb) will represent the Moore stable.
Sunday’s card commences at 12.45pm with the Class 5 Topaz Handicap (1400m) and concludes with the Class 3 Emerald Handicap (1400m) at 5.55pm.
Thewizardofoz landed the New Year Cup over 1400m last season with Joao Moreira on board.
Winner��s Way makes all to complete back-to-back wins last start.