Noble Alpha gets a golden chance
From the time Noble Alpha landed at Michael Chang Chun-wai's yard at Sha Tin, he has looked like a horse with nice win in him and he gets his chance to claim it in the Chevalier Cup (1,400m) today.
The four-year-old had some very solid three-year-old form in Germany, including a brace of Group race placings behind star galloper Alianthus, and Noble Alpha (Howard Cheng Yue-tin) has brought that form to Hong Kong from day one.
He looked good in his barrier trials before a sound fourth to Voile Rouge on his local debut and, despite some nervous issues behind the barriers, he has gone ahead since.
Second-up, he won over this course, beating rival Voile Rouge into third, followed by a strong second to Captain Sweet two weeks ago and both times he has rounded off his 1,400m with sizzling sectional times.
On that occasion, Noble Alpha was taken back early by Brett Prebble from a wider gate and struck some minor trouble towards the rear in the middle stages of the race.
In the same race, Captain Sweet also drew wide and went back under Darren Beadman, but the key point at the finish was that Beadman was able to get cover on Noble Alpha's outside.
That meant when the real work started in the straight, Prebble had to wait for Beadman to make his move before coming out from behind Captain Sweet and running him to a short head.
In this race, Captain Sweet (Vincent Ho Chak-yiu) has again drawn the outside, while Noble Alpha has drawn the rails gate, which should enable Cheng to have the gelding handier, as he had been in his first two starts, and be the one of the pair with a head start going into the last 200m. The raw arithmetic shows that, after Ho's claim, Captain Sweet will meet Noble Alpha on the same weight terms for beating him and the John Moore-trained four-year-old will be fitter after missing a couple of gallops through foot problems prior to that last-start win.
But changing Beadman for Ho is hardly a fair swap and the change of rider mitigates that mathematical positive, even if the likely strong pace could help ameliorate the problem draw for Captain Sweet.
With two determined front-runners like Leading City (Beadman) and Aashiq (Jeff Lloyd), the race looks a well-run affair. Neither horse has won without leading at a fast pace, though it remains an open question whether one will bite the bullet and sit behind the other.
With two senior jockeys of the standing of Beadman and Lloyd, it seems unlikely that they would both demand the lead at all costs, even if that is the style of their mounts.
There are a number of winning chances and the main danger to Noble Alpha may turn out to be John Size-trained Voile Rouge (Douglas Whyte).
Blinkers go on the John Size-trained gelding from a good draw and, though he had no excuses on his all-weather debut last time, that should be overlooked coming back to the turf and the scene of his win.
He gets a nice weight turnaround on Noble Alpha for his defeat by him two runs ago and there will be little between them at the finish.
The David Ferraris-trained Sweet Orange (Tye Angland) has again pulled an awkward draw but the presence of two strong regulation leaders may cut him a break.
Sweet Orange has had to work to get across at his last two runs and fought on after playing a major role in the tempo.