Best Friend to mow down his rivals
Best Friend was simply dazzling in winning his final two appearances last season, and he should show himself to be a horse on the march to much better races when he returns in today's Dongguan Handicap (1,400m) at Sha Tin.
He was purchased by Jaime Sze Wine-him after failing to register a win in five starts, was switched to the David Hall stable, and his transformation in three starts has been stunning.
At his first run for his new connections, he was taken back from a wide alley but ran on smartly to finish second to Good Partner, before fronting up three weeks later with a dominant win.
The five-year-old settled back in the field from a wide alley, was spotting the leaders a big break turning for home, but showed superior finishing speed to end up winning with plenty in reserve. He backed up a week later with a 10-point penalty and was even more impressive in scoring by a big margin, despite jockey Brett Prebble putting the breaks on over the final stages.
Despite being hammered with a 14-point increase for the success, Best Friend remains remarkably well placed in the final event, and showed he had returned from a break in great order with an excellent barrier trial effort at Happy Valley over 1,000m on September 6.
He settled back in the field, approximately 10 lengths off the leaders in the early stages before finishing strongly in the straight, despite being under a tight rein to finish a close-up fourth to Racing Spirit.
Although Best Friend will clearly excel in races longer than this assignment, he should make light work of his big weight and justify his very tight price in the market.
If there was to be an upset, it would likely come from capable first-up performer Wise Lover.
Three seasons back, the Alex Wong Yu-on-trained gelding scored a smart first-up success at 1,200m, before returning the following year with a luckless performance after striking trouble and being held up over the final stages.
Last season he resumed over this course and distance and was narrowly beaten by Safety First after being taken back in the early stages from the outside alley.
The seven-year-old takes his place in the field without having a barrier trial, but has been working strongly on the training track and Douglas Whyte returning to the saddle is significant.
Bullish Win looks the other interesting runner with the blinkers being added for the first time.
He didn't enjoy the best of luck throughout last season, but it will be no surprise to see him ridden prominently from the outside alley with the gear change, which is how he has run his best races in the past.
The potential improver is Beauty Express, despite being well beaten at his debut last season on rain-affected ground.
The one-time New Zealand winner will appreciate a drop in class, and hinted he was on the improve when closing off nicely in a barrier trial on September 5 behind Global Win.
Best Friend was switched to the David Hall stable, and his transformation in three starts has been stunning
Best Friend was hammered a hefty penalty for his last success: 14