Another National Day Cup win 'would be big surprise' for Cheng
Last year someone suggested the National Day Cup could be renamed the Howard Cheng Cup, such has been the leading domestic rider's dominance in the holiday feature in recent years, but the man himself is only 'hopeful' of history repeating itself at Sha Tin tomorrow.
Cheng has made the National Day Cup his own since initially landing it on 70-1 outsider Prime Witness for David Hayes in 2003. Last year, he landed another 32-1 upset when Tiber, trained by John Moore, bowled over HK$28 favourite Pocket Money, making it four wins from his last four rides in the Group Three handicap.
After the Prime Witness boilover, Cheng did not have a ride in the 2004 edition of the Cup, won by Town of Fionn (Glynn Schofield), but bounced back the following year to win it on Fokine, trained by Tony Cruz. Ironically, the runner-up there was Tiber.
In 2006 Cheng scorched to a record-breaking win on Flaming Lamborgini, prepared by Danny Shum Chap-shing. On a hard and fast surface, Flaming Lamborgini won three-quarters of a length from Helene Pillaging and stopped the clock at 1:20.4 - course record figures for the Sha Tin 1,400 metres circuit.
Cheng admitted to being 'shocked', in his own words, that Tiber could give him National Day Cup number four last year, and Moore has given him the chance to repeat on the veteran tomorrow. 'I have been incredibly lucky in this race - even last year, I did not think I could win the race and yet I won it again - but I cannot say I am confident this year,' Cheng said.
'Tiber is one year older, he's now eight years old and this is going to be a very strong field. I rode him in a barrier trial the other day and he went quite well after covering some ground in the middle stages.
'I am hopeful, and I am always trying my best. Of course, I would love to win this race again. But realistically, another win would be another big surprise to me.'
Moore is four-handed in the race. He has stable stalwart Joyful Winner (Darren Beadman) carrying the number-one saddlecloth, with the steadier of 133 pounds. He will also saddle up Sunny King (Eric Saint-Martin) and the smart three-year-old Kings Falcon (Mark du Plessis).
Joyful Winner and Sunny King have the benefit of a recent race, with Joyful Winner having finished an honest fifth to Enthused in the Chief Executive's Cup on September 15, and Sunny King a late-closing third to Egyptian Ra in the Skol Cup 10 days ago.
Kings Falcon, a winner of his last two starts before a break, has not raced since July 1, but did participate in a barrier trial over 1,200m last Friday. Tiber also went around in that trial. The black gelding, a Group One winner of the Classic Mile and runner-up in the Derby as a four-year-old in 2004, is a renowned fresh performer. Last year's win in this race was achieved first-up, and as a five-year-old he ran second to the great Silent Witness over 1,200m at level weights when resuming.