RACING returns to Happy Valley for the first time this season as an eight-race card takes centre stage this afternoon.
Hong Kong may be suffering its own internal problems at present, but that hasn’t stopped racegoers flocking to Sha Tin for the last two Sundays in the hope of winning ‘lucky money’.
In fact, the first two meetings of the 2019/20 season have seen turnover increase by around £6m, with the first meeting at the beginning of the month taking around £130m.
With weather conditions in the high eighties and locals having been deprived of their weekly racing at the inner-city track for the last two months, Happy Valley can expect a huge crowd returning to cheer on their favourite horses and jockeys.
We may only be a couple of race days into the 88-meeting season, but already the jockeys’ leaderboard has a familiar look to it.
Top of the table is reigning champion Zac Purton with four wins and seven places from just 19 rides, with his great rival, Brazilian ace Joao Moreira, just behind with three victories.
Both jockeys are in action at the Valley today and you can guarantee they will be heavily supported by the local racing fans.
Moreira has his card marked in all eight races, while Purton is booked for seven rides. It would be a brave man to predict that either jockey will leave the Valley by the end of the afternoon empty-handed.
It’s interesting to note that Moreira has teamed up with ‘King of the Valley’ trainer Caspar Fownes in four races.
Fownes has already hit the crossbar with three seconds at the first two meetings, suggesting his horses are not far off their best and it’s at the Valley the Australian-born trainer excels.
With over 450 career winners at the Valley, Fownes is a master of getting his horses to perform at their optimum around the tight and turning track.
All seven of his contenders should be considered seriously, with the Moreira-ridden PERFECT TO PLAY, who lines-up in the extended mile handicap (3.20pm), his best chance of success.
This steadily improving dual course and distance winner was last seen when just failing to withstand the late dash of Flying Quest, having been stepped up in class over track and trip in June.
He returned to the track early last month and looks to have progressed further, highlighted by an impressive trial two weeks ago.
With a good preparation and an attractive rating he must go close, while the Douglas Whyte-trained Last Kingdom and improving Splendour And Gold appear the principal threats.
Moreira’s best ride of the night should be the Tony Cruz-trained SMART LEADER who races in the closing six furlong sprint (3.55pm).
Cruz has been quickly out of the blocks this season, having already saddled four winners and most of his horses look fit and ready for action.
This Australian bred five-year-old ran smart sprinter Golden Sixty to just under a length when fourth in a hot handicap last April and is only 2lbs higher in the ratings here.
An impressive trial victory indicates he is in peak form and he should be hard to beat, especially with an inside draw in stall two.
Perfect To Play 3.20pm Happy Valley
Smart Leader 3.55pm Happy Valley