Cheng has super Star qualities
Leading local rider Howard Cheng Yue-tin is set to wind up the season as positively as he began it when he teams up with promising Maverick Star in the Hong Kong Racehorse Owners Association Trophy (1,600m) at Sha Tin today.
Cheng opened the season in a blaze of glory, much to the chagrin of punters, winning at the first meeting on 98-1 chance Wise Lover and continuing his early run of success on Arrogance (19-1), Dragon And Gold (20-1) and Dr More (50-1).
It was the springboard to a consistent flow of winners throughout the season with the former star apprentice now well entrenched in the top 10 on the premiership table after racking up 34 victories.
While it is clearly Cheng's best finishing position on the premiership ladder as a senior rider, he will need to boot home a treble today if he is to equal his own benchmark tally, achieved at his third season in 2000-01 when apprenticed to David Hayes.
Apart from finishing the season as the leading local rider, Cheng's other highlights of the season were winning the National Day Cup on Fokine and the Sha Tin Trophy on board Best Gift.
Cheng also turned in one of the rides of the season on Sparkle to claim a leg of the International Jockeys' Championship at Happy Valley in December, taking two needle eye openings in the straight and managing to lift the gelding to get his nose in front right on the line.
Another of Cheng's flawless displays came on Maverick Star at Sha Tin on June 17 when the Dennis Yip Chor-hong-trained gelding landed his first victory and the scene looks set for a repeat performance.
Cheng settled the five-year-old in the box seat and bided his time until turning for home. Maverick Star was briefly held up between the two leaders but Cheng persevered for the opening, shouldered his way through and the Desert King gelding found the lead before holding off a late challenge from the in-form Chater Silk.
While Maverick Star takes a rise to Class Two for the first time, he looks likely to be afforded the run of the race again, which will make him the horse to beat.
The thorn in Cheng's side could be premiership leader Douglas Whyte, fresh from a four-timer at Happy Valley on Wednesday night, on board the John Size-trained Winning Bullet.
The promising Zabeel gelding was back to his best with a game victory over the talented Disguise at Sha Tin on June 4 before indicating he was looking for this trip when staying on strongly last Sunday to finish third to the promising River Jordan.
Although Winning Bullet's three successes have come over 1,400m, the four-year-old has always indicated longer races would suit and he looks aided by a 10-pound drop in weight as compensation for the rise in class.
The wild card of the event looks to be Grand Noble on the back of a solid debut performance.
The Almond Lee Yee-tat-trained three-year-old arrived from Australia after placing at three of his seven starts as a juvenile, including a third at Group Three level over 1,600m.
He raced on the speed at Sha Tin on May 13 and stayed on strongly to finish fifth to Victory Code (Maverick Star placed second), only 21/4 length from the winner, and he will be assisted by the rise to this distance.
The Mr Henrysee colt showed he has trained on nicely with a sound trial effort behind Tiger Ridge on June 6 and he is likely to press forward from a wide gate to race on the speed.
Of the other likely contenders, Honey Money has a tough task with a big weight, Sir Ernesto is a query at the distance, while First Among Equals remains a maiden beyond 1,400m.