Murtagh riding high for big night at Valley
Ireland's Johnny Murtagh is 'on a roll' as he strives for an outright win in tonight's Cathay Pacific International Jockeys' Championship to go with his Super Jockey title in Japan.
The fireworks will light the fuse, the beer garden will be bubbling over and the bragging rights will be on the line at the annual CXIJC, with Murtagh looking to emulate rival Ryan Moore, who won Japan's Super Jockey series before an emphatic victory in Hong Kong 12 months ago.
And Murtagh, who was part of the historic three-way tie in 2009, brought his good on-track form to the photo call at Happy Valley yesterday.
'It's great to be here again,' he said. 'I've been here a few times and the best I've done is to share the title with Ryan and Christophe Lemaire in 2009. But I've got a few good rides this time and I've been quite lucky with the draw with some of them. I'll be looking for a good performance. After Japan, I feel like I'm on a roll!'
Only the charismatic Frankie Dettori was absent from the photo call, the Italian indisposed with what was reportedly an upset stomach, but that is not expected to prove any obstacle to Dettori trying to equal Douglas Whyte with three wins in the series.
For New Zealand whiz kid James McDonald, and Melbourne's champion Luke Nolen, a first look at Happy Valley yesterday was eye-opening.
'I always thought Moonee Valley was a pretty impressive stage for racing, with the stands and the crowd up close to the track, but this blows me away,' said Nolen as he surveyed the scene.
Both he and McDonald, who has hopes of securing a club jockey contract here in the near future, were taken around the course to tour its dips and bends by senior steward Steve Railton, along with Mikael Barzalona, who is not in the IJC but will have his first rides at the track tonight as well.
The remainder of field is made up of riders with plenty of Happy Valley experience, including last year's winner, Moore.
'I'm really looking forward to it,' said Moore, who has come directly from the Super Jockey series together with Murtagh, Nolen, Brett Prebble and Yuichi Fukunaga. 'And, after Sunday, I'm really looking forward to a nice, long holiday and no more flying for a bit!'
Frenchman Maxime Guyon racked up some experience around Happy Valley last season during his stint here, though his best form was at Sha Tin and he landed only three wins at the city track.
'I've got to know the Happy Valley course and its tricks now and I will be trying to get the best out of the partners I have got,' he said.
But the 'bookies' have surrendered to a familiar mode and made Hong Kong's perennial champion, Douglas Whyte, one of the favourites to take out his fourth CXIJC and the 'Durban Demon' won't be any pushover on his home turf.
'I wouldn't say I'm confident, but they've all got chances,' said the South African of his mounts.
'I love it when all the boys come to town for this event. It's great to be able to compete against the best. And, of course, I'd love to win it. The day I get tired of winning will be the day I'll retire.'