HAPPY Valley in Hong Kong holds its penultimate meeting of the season when racing gets under way with a nine-race programme starting at 11.45am today.
Although the championship titles for jockey and trainer were wrapped up some time ago, with jockey Zac Purton claiming his sixth championship and trainer John Size an unparalleled 12th, there is still plenty to play for at the Valley before the season closes.
Most superlatives have already been used to describe Purton’s incredible season, and he is now within touching distance of eclipsing Joao Moreria’s all-time seasonal record of 170 wins, needing just five victories from the remaining four meetings.
However, he still finds himself chasing young pretender Vincent Ho to become top jockey at Happy Valley.
The Zac-Man, for so long the master of riding this unique, tight-turning track, is two behind Ho with just a week to go and won’t take kindly to losing his unofficial title.
Purton has two stand-out performers on paper from his seven rides; notably course and distance record holder Stoltz in the Hong Kong Park Handicap (12.15pm) over five furlongs and Reward Smile in the Waterfall Bay Park Handicap (3.50pm) over six furlongs.
Ho can strike back when he renews his association with probable banker of the meeting, JOYFUL HUNTER, in division two of the Victoria Park Handicap (3.15pm) over six furlongs.
The Francis Lui-trained gelding looked the real deal when winning on his debut last month, coming with a storming late run and producing the fastest closing sectional time of the whole nine-race meeting.
His trainer has always held this son of Darci Brahma in high regard and reckons he has made further improvement, judging by his subsequent trackwork.
Talking of top jockey or trainer at the Valley this season, trainer Caspar Fownes, for so long the proclaimed ‘King of the Valley’, finds himself under pressure to retain that title, with rival Francis Lui snapping at his heels.
Fownes currently has a tally of 30 winners at the Valley this season, but finds himself only one win in front of Lui, who has two stand-out chances during the action in Stoltz and Joyful Hunter.
Former four-time champion trainer Fownes, who needs just one win to reach his half century for the current campaign, will be hoping that LUCKY GOR can return to winning form in the first division of the Victoria Park Handicap (2.45pm) over six furlongs.
Fownes has had to be patient with this talented sprinter since he won over the course and distance in October, as he suffered a leg injury which curtailed his career for six months and only returned to action last month.
Two encouraging performances showed he had lost none of his ability, and he now finally returns to his optimum distance with winning jockey Luke Ferraris back on board.
Despite carrying top-weight, everything appears in his favour, and he should be hard to beat in this company.
Lucky Gor 2.45pm Happy Valley
Joyful Hunter 3.15pm Happy Valley