The opening race of the New Year programme is always auspicious and winning it regarded by many owners as a sign of good fortune for the year ahead. French jockeys have almost made the race their own in recent years and it's a trend that may well continue at Sha Tin today when Gerald Mosse partners Palio King for Almond Lee Yee-tat.
Mosse won the opening race of 2004 on board Share The Fun for Manfred Man Ka-leung. Brett Prebble gained a touch for the antipodeans in 2005, landing it for David Hall on High Price, but the French gained ascendancy again in 2006 through Eric Saint Martin (Magnificent Horse) and last year the most flamboyant of all the French jockeys, Olivier Doleuze, lifted Speed Of Light home in a photo finish from Mosse on Miracle Dragon.
Palio King gives Mosse a great opportunity to improve his record in the 'lucky' opener for 2008 and it will be appropriate that the horse is trained by Lee, as the pair have formed a partnership of substance.
For a time, Mosse was retained as Lee's stable jockey and earlier than that, they were close during Lee's time as assistant trainer to David Hayes, for whom Mosse was also stable rider.
Palio King has been clearly programmed to achieve two aims. Firstly, a drop to Class Five and secondly, a return to 1,200 metres. He has worked strongly over the past two weeks and all indicators are positive for a return to top form.
The chestnut performed poorly at 1,650m one run back and then returned with an irregular heartbeat after finishing well back behind Profit Hill over 1,200m at Happy Valley on November 21. Lee has had Palio King thoroughly checked over by the vets in the interim and the great likelihood is that the irregularity was just one of those things that can and do happen in racing, and victims can be as humble as Class Five animals or as mighty as Horse of the Year, Vengeance Of Rain.
On last night's 7pm tote call, Palio King was an $78 chance, with Prebble and Hall having been marked $47 favourite with Namjong Sky.