Ice-breaker for punters
By ROBIN PARKE
YOU don't need a university degree to work out that horses tackling the 2,000 metres of tonight's featured race at Sha Tin are going to be at a disadvantage against those who go into the event with the benefit of a previous run.
The Hong Kong University Alumni Association Challenge Cup is a mouthful but the snappily-named Icy Bet can get the money here . . . not least because he has already had a run.
The decision to include 1,800 and 2,000-metre events in the first fortnight of racing of the new season is a cause of head-shaking and does seem to lack logic.
Only five in the field of 13 tackling tonight's trophy event have had a run with one of them, Entrepreneur, backing up after a 1,800-metre hit-out at the first night meeting of the new season.
Conditions in Hong Kong are simply not conducive at this time of year to preparing horses for distance events so soon after the restart.
And Hong Kong is much more attuned to the Australian style of racing where horses - and jockeys - go hard and fast. Unlike Europe, there is no inclination to lob along and then start to make a race of it from the half-way mark.
However, back to the action . . . where both Icy Bet and Thunder And Gold are two staying types who will certainly have derived benefit from an earlier run.
Icy Bet was backed into 3-1 for his opening day run over 1,600 metres where Our Pal won handily from Satisfaction with the Tony Cruz-ridden Icy Bet finishing fourth, three lengths adrift.
And, frankly, that did not look to be his race. He had done plenty of work but still looked above himself and his eventual placing was not a bad effort.
He is by Icelandic and his progeny tend to like a lot of ground so the step up to 2,000 metres is strongly in Icy Bet's favour. The opening day run has served to bring him on a lot and it is difficult not to see him being involved in the finish.
One could be wrong, but it is equally easy to picture this field stretched out over a furlong at the end of 2,000 metres.
Front-running Thunder And Gold put in an excellent first-up run over the longer sprint at Happy Valley and he tends to need a lot longer than that these days to be at his most effective.
Excellent local rider Jimmy K. H. Ting has the ride and, despite his barrier draw of 12, he should have Thunder And Gold quickly placed to advantage. He came home strongly at the end of the longer Valley sprint won by Explorer and has acquitted himself well in the past over this trip.
Of the horses without the benefit of a run, Thunder and Gold's stablemate, Patu, is an interesting candidate.
On the evidence of just two runs last season, he does seem to possess plenty of ability and in the right grade will be seen to advantage. Trainer Brian Kan Ping-chee is not known for a too tender approach to his horses and Patu has also done plenty of work although it should really be later for this fellow.
Entrepreneur ran a fair race first-up at Happy Valley when fourth to Tarnside Turbo, a real lover of the city track.
He steps up to tonight's trip for the first time but his breeding suggests the distance will pose few problems. He also has plenty of scope for improvement and Entrepreneur was impressive when making all at the Valley last season over a mile.
Champion jockey Basil Marcus takes over on Should Run For Me, formerly trained by John Moore and now with Chris Cheung Ting-pong.
The distance is definitely in his favour and of those who have not had a run he does have claims.
His new trainer has piled the work into Should Run For Me and the gelding has responded, not least for his rider in a couple of hit-outs. Should Run For Me had an enigmatic first season, really looking the part in a couple of runs and then, possibly, being unlucky in another.
But he has the ability to win a race in this company and he should be kept in mind.
Another who has seen action this season is Valiant Red, to be ridden again by Dean McKeown for the new chairman of the Jockey Club Stewards, John Swaine.
Valiant Red was doing his best work close to home at the end of his first race over a mile and improvement can clearly be expected. He was at huge odds at his debut and should still be attractively-priced in this event.
Valiant Red is worth considering for a modest quinella and tierce. He is far from being the worst on parade tonight.