Kudos for Ridley as Valley track stands up to pounding
TONY HARBIDGE (Topspeed)
Last Wednesday's night meeting at Happy Valley was notable for how well the much criticised sandmesh surface held up to a seven-race card.
The generally deplorable state of the city turf has been highlighted in this column on numerous occasions.
But credit where credit is due. Clerk of the Course John Ridley and his team pulled out all the stops in the leadup to the meeting to minimise the problem, rolling the track not only before racing but again after the fourth heat.
And for the first time this season punters at the Valley enjoyed the luxury of betting on a meeting with a reasonably consistent surface throughout.
The action kicked off with Don Pedro clocking a personal best Topspeed rating of 47, representing a four-point improvement on his previous high, but unlike previous meetings on the turf at the city track the surface didn't immediately degrade.
Indeed, the second contest produced a noteworthy win from Vantage Point.
Always travelling well in the lead under South African ace Douglas Whyte, the manner of his 4.25-length defeat of First Honour (46) leaves no doubt that the Ivan Allan-trained four-year-old could easily have returned a superior time rating than his winning figure of 55.
Make no mistake, last week's performance was useful as it stands but the potential for improvement from this son of Citidancer is clear. With figures of 32, 49 and now 55, Vantage Point is undoubtedly an animal on the up.
However, the winner is not the only galloper to note from the 1,200-metre Class Four Shandong Handicap. Newcomers Brave Star and Winwin Combination returned debut efforts full of promise in running third and fourth respectively.
Brave Star was very green in the hands of Jason Weaver and came from a long way back to snatch the minor honours. A speed figure of 37 rates a sound foundation for this Snippets youngster.
The same can be said for Winwin Combination, who is a nice type and clocked an encouraging first-up Topspeed rating of 34.
In the next event, the Class Five Hebei Handicap, Cheers Again absolutely sauntered up.
Cheers Again had shown distinct promise last season, despite running down the field in all four of his griffin outings, but he absolutely relished the move up to 1,800 metres.
He clocked an encouraging 44 time rating on his initial start this campaign and, although only reproducing that figure last week, again there is no doubt he could have easily improved had it been necessary.
Ridley also improved the all-weather surface at Sha Tin. At the previous meeting on November 19, the dirt track was riding far too slow and, although not quite back to the possibly ideal speed of the October 22 meeting, the course was prepared much better for Saturday's meeting.
Best effort on the afternoon relative to class was Fortune Partner's neck defeat of American Star (33), with the remainder of the field well strung out behind.
Always travelling nicely, Fortune Partner relishes the dirt and clocked a time figure of 45, only a couple of points below his very best.
Runner-up American Star also acts on turf and is capable of winning his first race for three seasons.
Golden Double (46) loved the return to the dirt in the fifth event, the Stanley Handicap, making his move from off the pace to destroy his 11 rivals.