Whyte to show who's the boss
But he will once again be hard-pressed to win the Jockeys' Championship title
Douglas Whyte, representing Hong Kong, should bounce straight to the front in tonight's International Jockeys' Championship at Happy Valley but will need to conjure something special in the second and third legs to wrest the title.
Whyte, fresh from his shared win in the World Jockeys Series in Japan last weekend, has the mount on Telecom Superboss for trainer Peter Ho Leung in the fourth event, a Class Four over the 1,650 metres course.
Telecom Superboss had appeared to be out of sorts for the first part of the new season but underwent a transformation when Ho was forced to stand down apprentice Alex Lai Hoi-wing and replace him with senior jockey Robbie Fradd.
Telecom Superboss had strung together an less-than-humble form sequence of eighth, ninth and eighth and must have been rated a clear winner in the battle with Lai as, with hindsight, the gelding was clearly not giving his best for the junior rider.
With a vigorous senior rider like Fradd on board, Telecom Superboss found the holidays were over and he consented to stretch out well to beat all but Lucky Dice on November 6, and that gelding confirmed the form handsomely with a follow-up win at Happy Valley last Saturday.
Tactical speed and quality of jockey are always a fundamental in assessing form at Happy Valley and in this department, Telecom Superboss has all the aces.
He will be in the box seat tonight and has the brilliant Whyte to handle the steering assignment.
Irishman Mick Kinane rides Couldn't Care Less for Danny Shum Chap-shing and the Marju three-year-old looks a progressive individual, who is just starting to get the idea after seven career starts. He could easily be a major point-scorer in the first leg, while consistent Flying Kenny should get Kieren Fallon (Britain) somewhere among the placings too.
The second leg, a Class Three over the same 1,650 metres circuit, represents a very good chance for Andreas Suborics (Germany) to vault towards the top of the table.
Suborics, no stranger to Hong Kong racing, will ride Able Marshall for trainer Gary Ng Ting-keung, whose yard is experiencing a real run of luck, his latest winner being A-Tack at the Valley last weekend.
Able Marshall should be at the top of his game following three runs from a spell and, like Telecom Superboss, he has that early tactical speed that is so conducive to success at the city venue. He's very comfortable at the place, too, having won three races over the course and distance. Local jockey Eddie Lai Wai-ming, who gained an 11th hour call-up by winning the opening race at Happy Valley last Saturday, looks like providing the toughest opposition to Suborics with Oriental, trained by last season's king of the Valley, Dennis Yip Chor-hong.
Oriental is another course specialist, having had five starts over the Valley 1,650 metres circuit for two wins - including a last-start victory on November 17 - and two minor placings.
The final leg will be the decider and Suborics looks sure to be among the money somewhere on Barracuda for freshman trainer Almond Lee Yee-tat, who has transformed the six-year-old from a Class Five plodder into a very consistent galloper one grade higher up the scale.
The race might prove to be a contest between a free-running animal like Barracuda and a big finisher in Mystic Force, who will be piloted by Christophe Soumillon, representing France.
Tony Cruz has been extracting steady, race-by-race improvement from Mystic Force and the Kaapstad gelding showed good finishing speed over 2,000 metres at Sha Tin last month, for second to Brown Beauty in a tight photo call.
Because of his get-back pattern of racing, Mystic Force needs the breaks to go his way but the gelding's storming finish may be sufficient to get him home. If Suborics has won the fifth on Able Marshall and been either first or second with Barracuda, the Austrian ace will be the champion for 2004.