FORMER champion jockey Tony P. H. Chan's great start to his third season with a trainer's licence can continue in the first race on an enthralling card at Sha Tin this afternoon. How good it is to welcome back some quality racing after three consecutive drab dirt meetings. There is something for everyone at today's meeting.
Chan's Lucky Sound is set to give punters a winning start, then there are a number of quality events with dream horses like the Patrick Biancone-trained Deauville putting his Derby credentials on the line in the feature National Panasonic Cup, the day's seventh event, there's a terrific final contest and it will be interesting to see how the apprentices, Sherie Kong and Win Chung, perform in the third. Both Kong and Chung are on the upgrade looking well worth their 10-pound claim these days. They have chances with Big Mac and Flying Tiger. But back to the opening event in which Lucky Sound is the form selection.
He has run a head and a neck second on both his outings this season, a reflexion of the cracking form the Chan stable has been in over the past month or so. First time out, Lucky Sound forced Gagne Vite to pull out all the stops and that one has franked the form by coming out and beating Grand Prize a shade comfortably. Lucky Sound then won his private duel up on the pace with the progressive Streak Of Dawn only to be gunned down in the dying strides by a well handicapped Our Champion. That second run came over a mile and it may well be that Lucky Sound is more effective back at today's trip of 1,400 metres. He has worked well since that most recent start and Tony Cruz, who has come in for an increasing number of good rides from Chan - witness Space Rock and Royal Horse - retains the mount.
The jockey is the most crucial factor in the winner-finding equation in Hong Kong as the tracks are pretty tight, requiring plenty of knowing, the handicapping is so close and the style of racing generally is so different to Europe from where a number of the jockeys hail. So it is often a false economy to put up a lesser rider or an apprentice and get a bigger price. Much better to opt for the likes of Cruz, or Marcus, or Kinane or any of the big names, and get the job done properly. Over the past season Cruz has never ridden better and he has a soft spot for Lucky Sound whom he won on back in England when he was trained by the late Jeremy Tree.
The Bruce Hutchison-trained Sparko is set to pose a considerable danger. Sparko works as if capable of picking up and carrying a Class Four field and, apart from Lucky Sound, this is a weak event. With a run under his belt Sparko would have been the selection, but it could just be that 1,400 metres first time out hands the advantage to Lucky Sound who will be up there setting a testing pace. All the same, put Sparko in for a single hit quinella with Lucky Sound, especially as Hutchison's horses are in good form.
The Australian mentor is set for one of his better campaigns after a luckless time last season when a number of photo-finishes went against his team. Deauville does not have an easy task in the National Panasonic Cup as he is eight pounds out of the handicap and up fully 19 pounds in the ratings from his first-up defeat of Timah. But he is a complete racehorse and will give it a very big shot.
He may have most to fear from Super Fit, Deerfield and Jade Age, all of whom are working extremely well. Come the Derby at the end of February, Deauville is likely to be one of the favourites along with Mr Vitality. He is also set to be joined in the line-up for the Blue Riband by the Alex Wong Siu-tan-trained Equine Supremo who bolted home on his reappearance and has worked stylishly since. He is strongly fancied to win the last from Pride And Joy who is another potential Derby contender and could not have won any easier than he did first time out, either.