Spirits' powerful presence haunts Hutchison foes
TRAINER Bruce Hutchison sends stayer Spirits Bay back to his favoured Happy Valley track and is keeping his fingers crossed for success in tonight's interesting fourth event.
The combined Classes Two and Three, 2,400-metre event is one of the highlights of the turf programme and is unquestionably highly competitive.
''There are probably four or five good chances in the field and I think it will be very difficult,'' said Hutchison. ''But Happy Valley is very much a track where it is horses for courses and at least Spirits Bay has invariably gone well round there.
''I was a bit disappointed with one of his earlier runs but it was on greasy ground and that contributed to it. I am hopeful that he will run a very good race tonight,'' added the trainer, who tasted success with Timah in the Manawatu Racing Club Cup on Saturday at Sha Tin.
Spirits Bay was closest at the finish in a 2,000-metre Sha Tin event last time and did not have a lot of luck in running. The race was won by Miss Piggy in a driving finish but there is little doubt that Spirits Bay can go better than he did on that occasion.
The return to Happy Valley could easily be the key. He won the P & O Challenge cup over this testing trip last year and he could prevail here again.
Spirits Bay has had a number of runs this time in but Hutchison appears to have the knack of being able to keep his horse up and the six-year-old looks certain to give a major sight.
The jockey in top form at the moment is John Marshall and he partners bottomweight Beat Them Up for Geoff Lane.
Last time out Beat Them Up was up on the pace, in contrast to his other most recent runs, and was never out of second place from first to last. It was an encouraging run but Marshall is not holding out too much hope.
''Geoff tried slightly different tactics last time and, to a large extent, they worked out. We ran a pretty good second to Good Dividend last time but that was over 1,800 metres and it wasn't as tough a race as this.
''You could not be sure that he will run it out but I think, more importantly, that this is a very tough race with a number of chances,'' said Marshall.
One other Happy Valley star in the field is Freedom Reigns who is reunited with regular rider Nigel Tiley.
Last time out Freedom Reigns was ridden by totally inexperienced W. L. Ho, a maximum claimer who could not have been expected to ride a race over the testing trip of 2,000 metres.
But Tiley and Freedom Reigns are very much at home at the city track as they showed earlier this season when winning handily over this trip.
On that occasion Spirits Bay was well adrift but is now weighted to make it much closer - and there may have been excuses for the Hutchison-trained galloper on that occasion.
Topweight Dragons Desert is a last start winner and, of course, horses from the stable of champion trainer John Moore are now really running right back into top form.
But Dragons Desert is unknown over the trip but is another with a very strong liking for the city track where he has put in easily his best runs. That is a considerable advantage but the big factor against him here must be the weight. To be carrying 140 pounds over 2,400 metres he has never tackled before is a very tough assignment.
Declan Murphy tasted fresh success on Saturday for trainer David Oughton when he partnered exciting Diamond Treasure to an all-the-way win over 1,400 metres.
He is now on board last start winner Thor Win for this event and the five-year-old Irish import has to be considered another chance in this tough race.
He won very readily for Mick Kinane at his last start over 1,800 metres and has won equally readily over 2,230 metres. There is no real doubt that he will also run out this extended trip very strongly and Murphy is riding in top form in his final season here.
Trainer Lawrie Fownes was pleased with the run of Gem Of India last time when the gutsy galloper finished fourth over 2,000 metres - just two lengths from the winner.
Gem Of India has run very well over this trip in the past and would be a tremendous chance if the track cut up. He does like the rain on his back and he is worth considering as a modest quinella or tierce bet.
Basil Marcus got a win out of Kowloon King over 2,230 metres three starts back but the gelding has found it harder since and the South African may have to settle for, at best, a minor placing.
Trainer David Hill also starts Royal Class who will be better back on the turf from the equitrack on which he has raced at his last two starts. But in this tough field it is hard to see him as a real chance.