David Hall's progressive sprinter Penang Hall will have his work cut out resuming against some handy newcomers, but still looks the best banker in the opening leg of the Triple Trio at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The TT will be bolstered by a jackpot in excess of HK$7 million as racing returns to the New Territories course after a two-week break, with the rail in the C + 3 position.
Penang Hall (Joao Moreira) broke through with an impressive win in May, blinkers sparking a turnaround as Moreira partnered the Australian-bred sprinter to a two-length win at his second start.
Moreira had to deal with barrier two on the biased straight course that day, and Penang Hall was forced to work hard to get up on the speed and raced three or four horses away from the best ground.
Hall then entered Penang Hall in a 1,200m race a month later, but he was withdrawn with lameness and put away for the season.
Two trials have Penang Hall looking at his best for this, but he will have to get the better of a couple of handy looking debutants: Right Call (Nash Rawiller) and Happy Cooperation (Zac Purton).
Moreira has ridden John Size-trained three-year-old Right Call at the trials, and he has done nothing wrong, but Rawiller gets on for race day. Gate two was a blow on face value for Right Call on a course that seems to have maintained its bias so far this season.
The false rail used in straight races this season is not in place when the inside rail is in the C + 3 configuration and two of the three races held this season when the outside rail is "true" have gone against the apparent bias.
Ironically, of those three events, two races have been won by the horse breaking from the gate considered to be the biggest disadvantage - barrier one - although both horses, So Fast and Dancing Flames, were well-supported to win and proved far superior to their opposition.
Right Call will need to work early to maintain a good position, which isn't an ideal situation for a newcomer.
Happy Cooperation, meanwhile, gets the benefit of barrier 14. The four-year-old had already trialled three times in New Zealand and has been given two more by Benno Yung Tin-pang, and even though he is a raw talent - making a complete mess of the right hand turn in his first trial and getting overly warm before his second - he looks to have the necessary natural ability.
The draw allows Purton to keep his mount hard up against the outside rail and he should have the pace to maintain the front from a long way with a clean jump, even with the speedy Ocean Roar drawn alongside him.
Of the others, take a pick between course specialists Gallant Rock (Karis Teetan), Excitable Boy (Chad Schofield) and Winner St Paul's (Douglas Whyte).
In the second leg, another low draw gives New Asia Sunrise (Brett Prebble) a great chance of going one better than last start in a 1,200m Class Three.
New Asia Sunrise was game last time out when beaten a short head by Brilliant Dream and getting the better of well-fancied favourite So Fast in a three-way go. He maps to get a similar run this time and goes in as banker.
Take Secret Command (Moreira), Smart Declaration (Richard Fourie) and likely front runner Thor The Greatest (Schofield). Keep a close watch on two first-starters that could be getting into it late and vying for placings: Beauty Prince (Neil Callan) and Sweet Home (Teetan).
The final leg looks toughest, a 1,400m Class Four that lacks depth and with an unpredictable speed map. Take Motif (Gerald Mosse) on top, sitting handy from a better draw, from Danewin Express (Moreira), Good Treasure (Prebble), Gallant Triumph (Whyte) and Royale Elegance (Purton).