International Jockeys' Championship draw again favours visiting riders
Local hoops once again left hopeful rather than optimistic after pairings are made for popular showdown
The home-town drought looks set to continue in the Longines International Jockeys' Championship at Happy Valley on Wednesday after Douglas Whyte, Zac Purton and Keith Yeung Ming-lun drew a grab bag of the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
Purton and Yeung, the only combatants on hand at yesterday's draw for mounts, emerged hopeful rather than optimistic despite Jockey Club oddsmakers placing Purton in the top five chances.
As ever, the IJC is a Rubik's cube with a huge number of permutations, but consensus was that the leading contenders might prove to be Ryan Moore, a dual winner, Britain's champion rider Richard Hughes, who comes off wins in similar competitions in Japan and South Africa, Japan's Suguru Hamanaka and Italy's Mirco Demuro.
The Jockey Challenge opening odds last night posted Demuro and Moore as equal 6.0 favourites, ahead of Whyte at 7.0, Hamanaka at 7.5 and Purton at 8.0.
Hamanaka has good rides on Winning Mascot, Twin Turbo, Bundle Of Joy and a potential surprise packet in the final leg with Ride With The Wind, and has good barrier draws with all four.
Purton was narrowly tipped off by Joao Moreira in the final leg last year when Purton looked to have the right collection of rides to become the first locally based winner of the four-race series since Douglas Whyte in 2008.
"I probably had a better book of rides last year and couldn't get it done, but what's on paper is not always everything in racing. It's great to be part of it and ride against some legends of the game," said Purton. "It's a bit of a mixed bag. He's in an open race, but I have a nice ride in the last leg with Majestic Anthem for Tony Cruz, so I should finish well. I just need to do a bit on the early ones and get some points to put me in a position to make that last one count. It looks tough."
Purton rides Safari Magic (first leg), Ho Wongchoy (second leg) and another for Cruz, Rocket Let Win (third leg) before Majestic Anthems. Whyte fared slightly better, with hopes on Heart Wood and Speedy Sandy, but lesser mounts on Plain Red Banner and Super Plus.
The chase for the HK$500,000 first prize is decided by points in each leg, with 12 for a win, six for second and four for third.
Whyte's three IJC victories are the only home wins in its 15 editions. Yeung, making his debut in the contest, probably fared worse than Purton or Whyte as only one of his four mounts will begin from inside stall six. "I'm not sure if I can win it, but it is really exciting to be riding against the best jockeys in the world," he said.
Last year, Peter Ho Leung dominated, training three of the four winning horses.
He laughed on the night that he targeted the IJC as the races carried extra stake money, but also observed it was a pleasure to know he was always getting a world-class rider and Richard Gibson echoed those thoughts after Monday's ballot.
"I've got Christophe Soumillon for two of mine and Ryan Moore on the other - I have no complaints at all," he said.
American legend Gary Stevens, 50, returns to the IJC for the first time since 2001, when his last ride in Hong Kong, Indubitably Bliss, was nosed out on the line, and he has drawn a good ride in the final leg again in Dual Happy.
Video: International Jockeys' Championship Interviews