What to expect next season as the curtain falls
And so it is almost here: Sunday’s final meeting of the season. The protagonists will take their bows, the stars celebrated and then the curtain will come down, not to rise until September.
Here are five of the big questions which will dominate discussions in the off-season:
1. How far can this season’s four-year-olds go?
They promised to be a strong crop and they’ve continued to deliver throughout the season.
The strength of the group is highlighted by five four-year-olds in Hong Kong’s top 20 on ratings: Designs On Rome (129), Able Friend (124), Amber Sky (122), Dibayani (120) and Flagship Shine (118).
Able Friend will lead the charge towards the Longines Hong Kong Mile, while Designs On Rome looks our best hope of retaining the Hong Kong Cup. Throw in Hong Kong Vase-bound Dibayani and it looks a strong team.
And with international riches on the horizon in the second half of next season, they could be the cornerstone of our feature races for years to come.
2. Who will be the next star sprinter?
Despite overseas wins to Sterling City, Rich Tapestry and Lucky Nine, the sprint ranks are fairly thin at the top.
Amber Sky is probably our most exciting sprinter – if only he could get around a bend. And Charles The Great, Frederick Engels and Bullish Friend are good, but not great.
There looks an opportunity for the next Sacred Kingdom to emerge.
Will it be a horse already here, like Divine Ten, Aerovelocity or Peniaphobia - each who looks to have rating points up their sleeves? Or will it be a new arrival – perhaps John Moore’s Not Listenin’tome?
3. Will the new international status for four Group Ones result in more visitors?
Four domestic Group Ones – the Stewards’ Cup (1,600m in January), the Citibank Gold Cup (2,000m in February), the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1,400m in March) and the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2,400m in May) – have been awarded international status, meaning they will be open to all-comers.
The purse for each is HK$10 million, but whether it attracts international competition is another matter entirely.
4. Is the Dream Team dead and buried?
If there’s one factor behind Douglas Whyte’s abdication as champion jockey, it has been the break up of the Dream Team alliance with John Size.
Last season, Size gave Whyte 218 rides, of which 50 were winners. This season, he’s only had 50 rides for Size for nine winners.
Is it a permanent split with Joao Moreira now forming the Dream Team Mark II with Size, or will Whyte find himself riding for Size more next season?
5. Can The Griffin go back-to-back in the Racing Post tipsters competition?
Unless one of the other Racing Post tipsters manage to pull a 50-1 winner out of the hat, it's going to be a shock victory to The Griffin in the straight bets table - probably more than a 50-1 chance at the start of the season.
It's been the only bright spot, though, as our performance in the quinella and trio tables has been nothing short of diabolical, more what would be expected from a first-season tipster. We've been able to identify long shots, but we can't get them consistently enough to be competitive.
So can it be repeated next season? Or, as colleague Alan Aitken so eloquently put it, will I emulate last season's champion trainer Dennis Yip Chor-hong and fail to back up?
Of course, one must have confidence so I'm sure we will repeat, but results will speak for themselves.