Hits and misses of the racing season so far
Twenty-two meetings of 83 are done and dusted, meaning more than a quarter of the season is gone. It’s an ideal time to take stock: what are hits and misses of season so far?
The Australian just keeps on winning and is looking more like the Jockeys’ Championship winner every day. It’s not just because he leads by 17 from Olivier Doleuze, and 18 to arch-rival and defending champion Douglas Whyte. It’s because there is a more calm, measured approach to the way Purton goes about things. There’s less talk and a whole heap of playing down his chances to the media. It’s a long season and he sprang out to a big lead last season, but there’s a different aura around Purton.
Whatever price Purton is to win the jockeys’ title, halve it and you have got a quote for what Size should be to win his eighth championship in 13 seasons. Size leads by nine to non-championship threat Manfred Man Ka-leung, while Tony Cruz is 10 behind on 13.
What makes Size such a sure-fire bet is that despite his solid strike rate, he has actually kept his powder dry for the first part of the term. There’s plenty of horses in the yard with multiple wins left in them, and a backlog of three-year-olds slowly building up to race starts at the trials.
Chris So Wai-yin
As a first-season trainer it must be such a relief to have won 13 races already, to put aside the dreaded 15-win minimum quota and get on with the business of training horses and fine-tuning systems.
So has done it not only with the usual motley crew of troubled stable transfers, but he has also achieved success with new horses, too. Last Sunday’s win with Addole was significant for So as it was the first horse he had prepared from its arrival to a maiden win, and he managed to produce the horse on debut too, a sign that his systems are clicking early.
International Jockeys’ Championship
Kudos to the Jockey Club for the talent assembled for next Wednesday’s International Jockeys’ Championship at Happy Valley. There’s not just quality, there’s some real fan favourites from over the years. Gary Stevens, Maxime Guyon and Christophe Soumillon have all elevated themselves to hero status here with highly successful short stays. It’s a pity Joao Moreira misses out due to suspension, but there’s still plenty of star power to light up Happy Valley next week.
We aren’t going to kick a man while he is down, especially a champion who has a habit of making critics look very silly indeed, but there’s no escaping the fact that Whyte has had a wretched start to the season. Numbers from main supplier Size have dropped dramatically and last Sunday Whyte had one of those days when nothing went right.
Watch the replay of the Chevalier Cup, where he went back, then forward, on favourite All You Wish, and was stuck wide three wide the whole way. The South African has been a marked man for a long time in a race, but now the opposition jockeys smell blood in the water and take great delight in making sure he gets no favours. Whyte is etched in stone as one of the greats of Hong Kong racing, but winning the title this season, with everything stacked against him, would be his greatest achievement yet, particularly if the situation with Size remains the same.
Trakus, commingling and single pool wagering
Trakus, commingling and single pool wagering was the much-awaited technological trifecta promised for this season. All we have so far is a colourful map where leader-cam used to be on the infield big screen.
Discussing detailed technical aspects of any of these problems has been banned at Happy Lucky Dragon Win, because it’s far too boring. Wake us up when they are ready.
Ambitious Dragon and California Memory sidelined
It’s a sad but inevitable fact that all good horses break down or are retired eventually, and the end could be nigh for two great rivals. Fans will be robbed of these two competitors defending home turf on international day. Ambitious Dragon’s presence would have made for a clash of the ages in the Hong Kong Mile, while California Memory was aiming for a record-breaking third Hong Kong Cup success.
The squeeze put on Colm O’Donoghue and Nicola Pinna
If the introductory pre-season press conference for incoming jockeys Colm O’Donoghue, Nicola Pinna and Karis Teetan was a job interview, Teetan would have been given the job on the spot. The press conference performances proved to be prophetic as Teetan has streaked away from his fellow newcomers.
While Teetan is in the top five of the Jockeys’ Championship with 16 wins, O’Donoghue and Pinna are languishing near the bottom with one and two wins respectively. Of course, Teetan’s light weight, positive attitude and early success have attracted more than 170 rides – only Purton has had more and it’s significantly more than his two fellow interviewees have combined (116).
Teetan also has the advantage of a style – bounce them out of the gates and take up a position quickly – that is easily adaptable to local racing. But the “miss” isn’t so much O’Donoghue’s and Pinna’s performance, it’s whether the late intake of freelance of riders has been fair on the duo.
Maybe more pressure should be applied on jockeys to start the season on day one. Perhaps an established star like Brett Prebble can be excused with a late note after years of service, but is opening the gate to those who have enjoyed a full European season fair on those who have sacrificed the same thing?
Of the freelance (overseas) jockeys, only Zac Purton, Douglas Whyte Olivier Doleuze and Tye Angland are licensed for the full season. The new trio, plus veterans Weichong Marwing and Andreas Suborics, will be assessed for extensions beyond mid-March.
The number of jockeys is a contentious issue, and while the numbers are about right, maybe the onus should be on more to start from day one.