Peter Ng Bik-kuen can celebrate his all-important 13th winner - the minimum per season under the Jockey Club's performance criteria - this evening at Happy Valley where speed machine Victory Warrior looks set to take all the beating in the final event.
Apart from his creditable record over the minimum trip at the city course, Victory Warrior telegraphed his readiness to win with an outstanding effort when taking a Happy Valley barrier trial back on February 21. He led from start to finish under Douglas Whyte, cruising to the wire in a sterling manner.
Another bonus this evening is that he is drawn ideally in gate one, from where he should manage to find an on-the-rail lead without having to work too hard. The grey looks nicely rated on his current mark (92), remembering he has won on a mark as high as 98 and has also been placed second as a 106-rater toward the end of last term. His recent work has been solid and he looks primed to win.
Three entrants make their debuts, including David Ferraris-trained Noble Silence, who won the Champion Juvenile (Gr. 3) over 1,200 metres in Zimbabwe before winning up to 1,600 metres as a three-year-old in South Africa. The import's work and trials have been excellent and he looks decent enough to prove competitive this evening on his first outing.
Peter Ho Leung has British import Celestial Steel stepping out for the first time. The Bluebird four-year-old won three of seven in England when racing under the unlikely moniker of Diosypros Blue, with clearly his best performance coming when second in the Sirenia Stakes (Gr. 3) over 1,200 metres. Celestial Steel's turf trial in mid-February was sound but he has not shown enough in subsequent trackwork to warrant serious respect at his Hong Kong debut.
Tony Millard's Winning Rongrong also originates from Britain, where he finished second in his only two starts as a two-year-old. Based on his overseas credentials, he does look handicapped rather harshly (rated 77). He has trialed four times and has shown promise, but there is plenty of improvement to come and from gate 11 he is best watched.
Few horses are better suited to the tight turns at Happy Valley than Paobridge, who has a top record over the course and distance. He's likely to press forward and apply pressure to Victory Warrior and, given his front-running preference, he is always a chance of hitting the frame over this tight circuit.
If Victory Warrior and Paobridge get locked in a speed duel it can only enhance the chances of One Step Ahead, who will relish the move back to his favoured city venue. Although he has drawn the outside gate, it is not a major concern as he will be dropping out in the early stages and storming home. He has won at this trip and must be kept safe.
Diamond Century has shown glimpses of potential, most notably when third to Jolly Gains over the course and distance on January 14 in the Hong Kong Club Challenge Cup. He is well drawn and certainly looks one to add to the shortlist if able to produce his better form.
Tony Cruz and Felix Coetzee team up with Noble Hero, who has recorded three wins over 1,000 metres around the city circuit. He ran well in defeat when second to Our Jet over 1,200 metres on February 18 but looks to have reached his limit in the ratings and only appeals as a minor place hope.
Course-and-distance specialist Winning Counter has only failed to hit the frame once from four starts over this circuit. The advantage he has over many rivals is his ability to settle in a prominent position and he usually finds more when asked.
Winning Counter finished fifth to Our Jet on his most recent run and is another that could sneak into the frame without causing any surprise.
In-form trainer David Hayes is looking for his third win from four starts with Wyndam Easy, who drops back from an impressive victory over 1,400 metres on February 22. He is on a career-high rating of 92 at present, but the 10-pound claim of Paul Lo Pak-hin alleviates the majority of the nine-point penalty for his latest win. He has sound form at the city course but may be looking for a longer journey now.
Solid Contact confirmed some improved trackwork leading up to his last run on February 18 when fourth to Our Jet over 1,200 metres, but the nine-year-old has lost his zip and the drop back to the minimum distance does not look ideal. He should find a few too quick.
Dennis Yip Chor-hong's One More Round was withdrawn on his last intended run on October 1 when he suffered an injury to his left-fore tendon. He is resuming from a lengthy spell and, with only a light preparation behind him, there should be plenty of improvement to come.