AFTER a two-month break, inner-city track Happy Valley hosts its first meeting of the 2022/23 season in Hong Kong on Wednesday, with an eight-race programme starting at 12.15pm.
Most of the talk during the close season centred around the general wellbeing of champion jockeys Zac Purton and Joao Moreira, who both suffered health issues in the latter stages of the championship race, before Purton won his fifth championship on the final day at Sha Tin in July.
It hasn’t been easy being a jockey in Hong Kong over the past few years, having to cope with strict COVID-19 restrictions in the city, living life in a bubble, and the high intensity environment of racing in the territory.
Both jockeys are nearing the end of their careers, with Moreira having already delayed his start to the current campaign until this Sunday stating health issues and mental stress, while Purton, although off the mark with a winning treble at Sha Tin last weekend, still appears to be carrying numerous niggling injuries.
The Zac-Man’s treble equalled his best ever start since gaining a licence in Hong Kong and he will surely be trying to put plenty of daylight between himself and the ‘Magic Man’ Moreira before the latter resumes race-riding.
Purton has his card marked in all eight races at the Valley, and, as per normal, the majority are near the forefront of the odds market.
The likes of See U Again, in the opening Big Wave Bay Handicap (12.15pm), Wins All in the Middle Bay Handicap (1.45pm), and Hardly Swears in division two of the Chung Hom Kok Handicap (2.15pm) all hold winning chances on form, while the Australian also climbs aboard ‘talking horse’ Super Vince.
This Australian import from champion trainer Frankie Lor’s stable gained a big reputation in his home country before being shipped over to Hong Kong, and it will be interesting to see how he performs over the Valley’s five furlongs in the Deep Water Bay Handicap (1.15pm).
With the draw always playing an important role at the city track, it’s worth noting a couple of trainer Caspar Fownes’ contenders in the latter stages of the meeting.
Fownes had a disappointing campaign last season with only 45 winners to his name and will surely be looking to get on the scoresheet early on this time around.
Both his contenders NEARLY FINE in the Repulse Bay Handicap (3.15pm) over the extended mile, and NICCONI COUNTY in the Shek O Handicap (3.50pm) over six furlongs catch the eye, especially with the all-important inside draw in stall one in their favour.
Talented but unpredictable Nearly Fine will never get a better chance of winning from his present mark in the handicap, while Nicconi County was impressive in a recent trial win, which suggests he is capable of defying top-weight here.
Nearly Fine (e/w) 3.15pm Happy Valley
Nicconi County (e/w) 3.50pm Happy Valley