A series of wide draws, including barrier 11 with likely favourite Ivictory, will put leading jockey Joao Moreira to the test as the Brazilian tries to build on his somewhat subpar record at Happy Valley so far this season.
Subpar, of course, is a relative term – most jockeys would kill to be batting at a strike rate of 15.2 per cent at the track, good enough for second overall behind Zac Purton – but Moreira’s strike rate at the smaller track this term is noticeably lower than at Sha Tin and compared to previous seasons.
Moreira entered this season with an overall career strike rate of 24 per cent and while he seems to have an insurmountable lead in his quest for a fourth-straight championship, second-placed Zac Purton has a much better record at the city circuit in 2017-18.
Purton trails Moreira by 10 wins in the overall standings – 71 to 61 – but the Australian has outstripped the Brazilian 26 wins to 19 at the Valley.
Moreira heads across town with seven rides on the nine-race card but with just one – Class Five chance Happy Sound – drawing lower than seven.
With the rail out in the C position, that puts the pressure on Moreira as he attempts to place a host of top chances into winning positions.
Of his chances, the John Size-trained Ivictory looks best equipped to handle his awkward starting point in the Class Three Blue Pool Handicap (1,200m).
Ivictory made an impressive return early last month after spending nearly seven months away from the races with a left cannon bone injury.
Sent out 1.6 favourite, Ivictory was entitled to be a little rusty after such a long lay-off but then after being positioned perfectly in a one-off spot by Moreira, the four-year-old was taken off his running line by a wayward My Beginner’s Luck.
“When it was happening, I said to myself ‘OK, we’re going to go down’,” Moreira said of the incident, before Ivictory recovered to cruise to a two-length win.
“I said to John after the race that to have things like that happen and still win in the way he did, Ivictory has to be a very good horse. Things settled down after a few strides but it was still a good job to go on and win easily.”
Ivictory went up 10 points to 85 but stays in “Class Three” courtesy of the extended ratings band conditions of the race.
The winner of four from five at Sha Tin has trialled at Happy Valley three times, including twice this preparation, and has shown himself to be a versatile sprinter with solid enough gate speed but also the ability to sit back in a field and sprint when required.
That means Moreira has some options and by the time Ivictory’s event comes around in race eight, he will have had plenty of practice navigating from wide out.
Arizona Blizzard (barrier seven), Glory Star (eight), California Whip (eight) and Ensuring (12) all drew out, and he closes the night on Dances With Dragon from gate eight in the Class Three King Kwong Handicap (1,650m).
Dances With Dragon arrived from New Zealand with a Group One mile win on his resume but surprised with a strong first-up showing over 1,000m at Sha Tin when third behind Hot King Prawn.
The four-year-old was then a touch flat second up over 1,200m and unlucky sixth at 1,400m last time out when stuck behind horses until well into the straight.
Dances With Dragon carries 132 pounds, giving 16 pounds to back-to-back winner Let’s Take It Easy (Karis Teetan) and 12 pounds to in-form four-year-old Affluence Start (Zac Purton).
Still, this race represents a sharp drop in class for a horse who last start finished behind some genuine Class Two competitors.