It’s a sign of the times that apprentice riders look to hold the key to the Manawatu Racing Club Challenge Trophy (1,200m) at Happy Valley with Matthew Poon Ming-fai the hardest to beat on Fantastic Feeling.

With all four apprentice riders qualified to ride at the track, albeit with Kei Chiong Ka-kei currently on the suspended list, racing has changed a little at the quirky city track and, at least for now, the domination by the top senior riders is seeing some variation.

Poon and Dylan Mo Hin-tung have been in super form generally and Poon’s win at the first time of asking at the Valley last week kept his record of a winner at every meeting since he started in Hong Kong intact.

Now the David Ferraris-trained Fantastic Feeling looks a great opportunity to keep that rolling, coming off a last start win over the same track and distance six weeks ago when Sam Clipperton gave the gelding a perfect ride.

Often the key to Fantastic Feeling’s prospects lies with a good draw because he can be tricky to get into his races without one and his finish is fairly one-paced.

Clipperton bounced him straight into the first five from gate three that night and, despite a slightly wider draw in six this time, Fantastic Feeling maps OK as he has only two fast horses underneath him in likely leader, Thor The Greatest, and Packing Stones.

A positive jump will be important but if Poon can put him into the race early, then the jockey’s 10-pound claim will play a part in keeping him going at the business end.

David Ferraris is hoping the rain continues to give Confucius Spirit the best chance at Happy Valley

Jack Wong Ho-nam has also made good strides in his riding career this season, despite missing quite a bit of racing with a broken ankle after a fall in November, and he looks the main threat on Navas for Richard Gibson.

Ignore the last run from Navas, when he failed over 1,650m on a wet dirt surface, and gate one should see him park midfield on the rail and improve on his previous form from wider draws.

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