JOCKEYS Joao Moreira and Zac Purton will take centre-stage when Hong Kong’s most popular day in the racing calendar, the Chinese New Year Raceday, gets under way at Sha Tin on Thursday from 4.30am.
With around £2.4 million added to the exotic raceday betting pools, the local population, from large-stake bettors to market-stall holders, will be looking to start their year on a high, clutching plenty of HK dollars.
In normal circumstances around eighty to ninety thousand spectators would be on course cheering their runners on, buying anything with the word ‘Luck’ imprinted on key-rings, pens and cuddly horse toys, and hoping the ‘Year of the Tiger’ will start on an auspicious note.
Unfortunately, there won’t be a spectator in sight with Covid-19 restrictions only allowing essential personnel on the track, but that won’t stop the local population playing on their mobiles or queuing in the local betting shops.
You can guarantee that over £150 million will be bet during racing and a large percentage of that figure will be riding on Moreira and Purton.
The two champions lock horns in ten of the eleven races and it would be a brave man to predict the deadly-duo won’t ride at least two or three winners apiece.
Sifting through their rides, maybe Moreira’s ride in the ‘lucky’ last, the Fat Choi Handicap (9.50am) over one mile and a furlong, aboard the talented and fast-improving SENOR TOBA represents his best value chance.
This former Australian galloper had good form in his hometown, including when finishing runner-up in the Queensland Derby.
In Hong Kong, the Caspar Fownes trained four-year-old has improved in each of his three races, including when winning for the first time under Moreira over ten furlongs in December.
A subsequent trial at Happy Valley suggests he now looks the finished article, and it wouldn’t surprise if he lined-up in the HK Derby, providing his rating is high enough come March.
For anyone looking to include him in forecasts, add top-weight and in-form Beluga and Looking Great, who seems to be returning to his best form and is near his last winning mark in the handicap.
Remembering that Purton and Moreira will be riding plenty of short-priced favourites during the day, Purton’s best hope at fair odds could rest with the Paul O’Sullivan trained SCIENCE PATCH in Division Two of the Prosperity Handicap (6.35am) over seven furlongs.
This Australian bred five-year-old has only raced a handful of times since landing in Hong Kong, after taking plenty of time to acclimatize, but proved an eye-catcher in his latest race behind Golden Empire last month.
Poor Vagner Borges was caught trying to find daylight for most of the home straight, before dashing into space too late when the race was over.
With Purton taking over in the saddle and mapped for an ideal journey, don’t expect any mishaps this time.
Science Patch 6.35am Sha Tin
Senor Toba 9.50am Sha Tin