After a confidence-boosting win on Sunday, apprentice Alvin Ng Ka-chun heads to Happy Valley tomorrow night holding the key to the season's final midweek Triple Trio.
The TT will be bolstered by a healthy HK$4.22 million jackpot, and Ng has two standout bankers that could help capture the estimated HK$8 million dividend.
In what was meant to be a breakout season for the 22-year-old, Ng has had problems staying out of trouble with a total of 22 racedays spent on the sidelines.
He returned from an eight-meeting suspension on Sunday at Sha Tin with a polished ride on Rich Tapestry, and can carry that momentum to the city track with rides on well-drawn Surfer Boy and Smart Kids in the first and last legs for Dennis Yip Chor-hong.
Surfer Boy has Ng's crucial seven-pound claim in a Class Four over 1,200m, as he did over the same course and distance last start when he was a battling half-length second to Well Done after a tough duel in the straight.
Surfer Boy has drawn well in four, but Ng will have to have his wits about him aboard the on-pace runner. Ng has been mentored by Zac Purton, but the Australian will be looking to make things difficult for his new protege on another front-runner in Benefactor.
There might not be a faster horse out of the gates than Benefactor, who has drawn inside Surfer Boy, and even though Purton could probably find the rails, he might prefer to keep Ng posted deep.
Benefactor drops in grade and has claims, but he will need to find some peace in front.
The apprentice will also have to deal with another street-smart hoop drawn below him on a leader type, Brett Prebble on Novel Start, jumping from one with the Gary Ng Tik-keung-trained four-year-old chasing three wins from four starts.
Prebble doesn't give an inch and will make it hard for whoever wants to cross him for the front and, from the box seat, Novel Start maps to get the right run. Both his victories came when getting his own way in front.
The three speedy types vying for position up front could create some pressure, and there are a couple of handy-looking backmarkers who look ready to capitalise should things get silly on the speed.
After a recent drop in grade, Make It (Derek Leung Ka-chun) has a dangerous look about him, while Heco Rider (Tye Angland) has shown something at the trials and ran on over the course and distance last time out.
It's all about the draw for Ng's ride Smart Kids in the anchor leg, a competitive Class Three over the minimum trip. There are plenty of horses entered with more ability than the five-year-old, who gets in well with 115 pounds after Ng's claim, but finding a better credentialed runner drawn on the track is tougher.
Gamekeepers, to be ridden by Douglas Whyte, pending a medical clearance, would start close to favourite had he not drawn 10, and David Hall's Eastern Promise (Prebble) is in the same category after being balloted gate 11. Even Gold Edition (James McDonald) has drawn barrier nine and would be fancied with an easier starting position. As it stands, all three need to be included on ability.
That leaves Smart Kids from gate one getting the gun run in behind, and it is just a matter of what numbers to include, with plenty of others in the mix as well. Ride On The Fire (Jacky Tong Chi-kit) and Ever Beauty (Purton) are both last-start winners drawn in six and seven respectively and could fill a place.
While the final leg boasts quality and is a question of 'who to leave out?', the middle pin will have punters scratching for three horses to put in.
Andreas Schutz produced Agiaal (Tim Clark) looking superb for his debut last month and he ran accordingly, flashing home late for second at big odds.
It is fair to expect improvement from that first-up run over 1,650m, where he was slow away, and he has some appeal as a banker.
Noble De Best (Leung) is up in grade, but with just 115 pounds and drawn one, he needs to go in. Ambitious Treasure (Alex Lai Hoi-wing) was seventh last start, but was given no chance in a race where the leader walked and sprinted away late. This time the backmarker gets some more speed and is a danger in a race with more pace.
Carving out the speed should be a couple more place hopes, despite poor recent form - Fortune Winner (Tong) and Always Something (Whyte).
Expected Triple Trio dividend for tomorrow night's last Valley meeting of the season