Marcus to blossom on Kan's Floral
Three master Happy Valley performers combine in tonight's final event which is why Floral Joy is the selection in this intriguing Class One contest.
The horse himself is a standing dish at the Valley. He loves to get out there and make the running, pointing to an imminent Valley success last time out when only caught in the dying strides by Silent Partner and Legitimate.
Apprentice Vincent S. K. Sit had the mount last time but now seven-time champion Basil Marcus hops aboard and Marcus is a past master round the idiosyncratic city circuit. And he'll know all about Floral Joy's Valley prowess, not just from last season but also because it was he who rode Silent Partner.
And then there is trainer Brian Kan Ping-chee. The local hero, most prolific trainer in Hong Kong racing history, sends out winner after winner at the Valley, helped by his penchant for racing his horses on the speed.
And on the speed is exactly where Floral Joy and Marcus will be, but this time expect the South African ace to make a bit more use of him than Sit as Floral Joy is probably at his best when stretching them from the front, not stacking them up and then outsprinting them.
Last time out he ran sectionals of 14 seconds, 23.4, 24.5, 25 and then they dashed home in 23.4 and he was outsprinted by his immediate pursuers. Those further back, not surprisingly, couldn't land a blow.
But when Floral Joy won three times at the Valley last season, setting a course record in the Millennium Cup under Irishman Jimmy Quinn, he was made far more use of and seemed to thrive on it. In the Millennium Cup his sectionals were 13.6, 22.7, 24.5, 24.6 and 23.8. Prior to that in one of the International Jockeys' Championship races during International week he equalled the Class Two mile record with sectionals of 28.3, 23.5, 24.3 and 23.8 and even before that notched very similar quarters when taking the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce Cup over the Valley mile.
So Floral Joy appears to thrive on leading at a testing pace at the Valley and he could get tested near the speed if the David Hayes-trained Depeche Mode is ridden forward from barrier six or if Willie Way takes him on from gate four.
Floral Joy's main rival could well be Hayes' youngster, Meridian Star, who looked desperately unlucky not to catch Chutzpah last time, form which has been franked by Sunday's success of Lucky Six. Meridian Star's trouble is that he is habitually ridden back these days and could find the track very hard to overcome. He can't be left out of quinellas but Floral Joy's superior track craft could see him prevail.
Many Happy Returns had no luck on any of his past three starts and is by no means out of it while Sweetheart looks set to get a good run from barrier three.