Jockey Zac Purton and trainer John Moore have formed a potent combination in recent times and the pair look poised to strike again with sprinting surprise packet Isaac at Happy Valley on Wednesday.
Purton has won six races for Moore in the space of a month, a sequence that started when Sea Jade scored at the Valley on December 30, and the Australian rider has only missed a place once in the last 14 rides for the stable.
Isaac was one of those victories when he went back-to-back in Class Four over 1,200m and now the four-year-old steps into Class Three over the same course and distance with gate one on the C + 3 course.
Most importantly though, Isaac still looks on the up having had just three starts, or four if you count the “Rakegate” race in October.
After a debut fifth and then running on nicely behind D B Pin in the voided race, something clicked with Isaac, the Australian-bred gelding taking both of his next two starts with authority.
The last start win was even more dominant than the first, carrying 132 pounds as 1.9 favourite, Purton toyed with rivals in a race where not everything went his way.
Isaac had to be pushed hard to find a spot outside the leader Ace King, a winner on Sunday, before being attacked in the early to middle stages.
Despite the pressure, when Purton pressed the button upon turning, Isaac sprinted away to win mostly under hands and heels riding.
The handicapper put Isaac up nine points and now the still-developing prospect carries 121 pounds in the Connaught Handicap, a much tougher task, but one Moore’s horse seems capable of handling.
A trial on the dirt last week adds even greater confidence, with Isaac looking more confident as Purton had the gelding lead and then travel to the line under a strong hold.
The early speed duels will be fascinating, Purton will have to fight to hold a forward position, but he will probably have company with Diego Kosta (Joao Moreira) and I’m A Witness (Silvestre de Sousa) likely to come out gunning from wide barriers, while Most Beautiful (Nash Rawiller) won’t be far away either.
Another trainer Purton has had a decent strike rate with this season is David Hall and they team up with stayer Andoyas, who gets a rare chance at 2,200m.
Purton is winning at close to 30 per cent for Hall this term, getting four victories from 14 starts and placing on seven.
Andoyas is yet to win in Hong Kong but struck a good vein of form around this time last year, running a short-head second over 2,200m to Happy Rocky.
The German-bred import followed up that run with another second to talented prospect Eastern Express, who was then a neck away to Sun Jewellery and Werther in the Hong Kong Classic Cup at his next start.
After another second, this time to Packing Dragon, the lightly framed Andoyas lost his way during the latter part of the season, but seems to be finding form again now off a lower rating.
Hall has spaced the six-year-old’s runs and the Murray Handicap seems a golden opportunity at what is probably the gelding’s ideal course and distance.
Moreira has his usual strong book of rides, including Speedy Wally dropping back into Class Five and one for Hall that must win soon, Gracydad.
But it is two horses Moreira rode last start who might represent some value – Never Better (Sam Clipperton) and Works Of Art (Brett Prebble).
Never Better has been honest this season and even though he keeps creeping up the ratings without winning, the Club Street Handicap just might be the right race for him.
Prebble is the fourth jockey in four starts for Works Of Art, and it’s fair to say the four-year-old hasn’t had great rides during that stretch.
Works Of Art hasn’t run badly though since his maiden win and he should be right in contention with top weight in the Queensway Handicap.