RACING in Hong Kong is back in the limelight in the early hours of Sunday morning, when the first meeting of the 2019/20 season gets under way at Sha Tin.
Hong Kong may be suffering its own personal problems at present, but that won’t stop thousands of local racing enthusiasts descending on the territory’s premier racetrack with one aim in mind – to win a fistful of ‘lucky money’.
The start of any new racing season always produces dreams of success for the coming year.
Here are some of the names – both four-legged and two-legged – that look set to star.
Hong Kong’s Horse of the Year will again be the number one attraction when he steps back onto the racetrack next month.
The seven-year-old, officially rated the best miler in the world, will be bidding to extend last season’s ‘perfect eight’ victories and prize money haul of £8.3million.
Such is his reputation – the city comes to a standstill when he is in action – and like other modern-day equine athletes such as Winx and Enable, he regularly makes the national TV news.
If any horse was bred to be a champion, it’s John Moore’s three-year- old son of Sebring.
He’s unbeaten in three races, including a breath taking victory over six furlongs at Sha Tin in July.
His jockey Zac Purton has tempered enthusiasm by saying he hasn’t beaten anything of note yet and is still learning.
To me, he looks like the mythical winged horse Pegasus reincarnated.
Champion’s Way Champion trainer John Size has always been complimentary about this highly progressive horse.
He was a prolific winner in his first season, with his rating spiralling from 52 to 108, and he looks capable of winning the Group One Classic Mile.
A dark horse that could be worth following in his second season in HK after coming from John Gosden’s stable.
He took some time to acclimatize but produced a spectacular win over the extended mile on dirt on his final run and could be a champion on that surface this season.
A phenomenal personal best of 168 winners last term and he will again be partnering HK’s top horses.
The Australian amassed a record £24m last season and landed seven of the 12 Group Ones on offer in the territory.
However, with rival Joao Moreira back for a full season, he won’t have it all his own way.
The ‘Magic Man’ produced a bombshell at the end of the 2017/18 season by choosing to further his illustrious career in Japan, but after failing stringent language tests to secure a full-time licence, he returned to HK in Christmas 2018, only to find he was restricted to riding mainly for John Size.
Despite securing 90 winners in a short campaign, you can guarantee it would have hurt him inside to watch Purton carrying all before him.
There is no doubt he will be going all out to regain his reputation as the ‘cash machine’ for punters again, and there are many shrewd racing judges who rate him favourite to win back the trophy.
The young South African arrives in Hong Kong after only three seasons as a jockey.
His CV includes being the first apprentice to win the jockeys’ title in South Africa in 2017/18 and winning the championship again with 219 winners last season.
He looks hugely talented and will be suited by the tough environment.
It looks like being a big campaign for Ho, who won the Tony Cruz award for the second time as leading local rider last season.
The Hong Kong native is ambitious, demonstrated by his persistence to ride winners in the UK recently.
Of his five rides at Ascot, he helped the Rest of the World team land the Shergar Cup with one win, a second and a third.
His overall record of six wins and five places from 22 rides in the UK this summer reads very well and he looks worth following.
Lor saddled two Group One winners at the International meeting in December and also the HK Derby winner Furore.
His stable is full of talented and high-class horses and it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise if he won the coveted trainers’ title this season.
With Beauty Generation and Aethero in his yard, Moore’s final season as a trainer could be a very successful one.
He is the city’s most successful handler and you can expect to see his current tally of 1,678 continue to rise.
Whyte, the greatest jockey in the history of HK racing with 1,813 wins to his name, embarks on his new career with a stable overflowing with new recruits and stable transfers.
The ‘Durban Demon’ has travelled the racing globe in the closed season, including with Sir Michael Stoute at Newmarket, learning and fine honing his skills for his new profession.
He already looks a ready-made winner to make his new career a success.