Versatile Ottimo can get back on track for Million Challenge
Improving four-year-old Ottimo is back to his preferred course at Happy Valley tonight and ready to throw his hat back in the ring as a genuine contender for the 1010 Million Challenge by winning the Hoi Lai Handicap (1,650m).
With only 10 starts, the Dennis Yip Chor-hong-trained gelding still has his best ahead of him and is ready to reward those fans willing to forgive his effort last time out as favourite when tried over 1,800m for the first time.
Despite the slow pace on that occasion, the distance still looked to find out Ottimo (Vincent Ho Chak-yiu), who has strung together a series of victories over 1,650m in the lead up to it.
Connections have indicated Ottimo's target is the Challenge, and he was impressive dealing with Vitality Express over this trip two starts ago on October 20 to take his record on the course and distance to four wins and a second from six attempts and his Million Challenge score to 21 points.
As events have unfolded since, he now sits 23 in arrears of competition leader Fun Rider, after losing his chance to improve his tally last time.
Although he won't catch up even with a win this time, he should make a start on it by claiming the maximum 15 points in the Happy Valley contest that ends in February.
In his favour is a drop back to Class Three and a good draw that should have him camped behind the pacemakers in the running to the home.
Importantly, Ottimo has shown a tactical versatility which is vital on the 'C' course and particularly in a race where the tempo may not be that strong.
The majority of his rivals are slow beginners or horses who prefer to take their time and get balanced early, with Juggernaut and two runners tackling the trip for the first time, Project Runway (Maxime Guyon) and Master Rio (Olivier Doleuze), looking the exceptions.
John Size's Project Runway looks a danger to the topweight as his win earlier in the season over 1,200m came when he was able to find the lead in Class Four.
His run at Sha Tin over 1,200m last time was much better than it looks on paper, with a sharp check at the 800m setting him back under 133 pounds.
Project Runway applied himself well to run on again for fourth and his one-paced style looks suited to the step up in trip with 118 pounds.
Ottimo is improving with each start, winning four times at the city course for prize money of: HK$2m