The big guns return for a couple of Group Two races on Sunday at Sha Tin but the support card still holds plenty of interest with potential star Jing Jing Win a standout.
David Hall’s four-year-old was breathtaking on debut when he strolled to a dominant win and the high-priced Hong Kong International Sale purchase seems to have made some progression since then.
Jing Jing Win looked outstanding in a 1,050m barrier trial tune-up last Friday, matching motors with another highly touted, but more exposed, prospect in the form of Mr Stunning.
Perhaps the only concern leading into Jing Jing Win’s debut was the youngster’s trouble around the barriers, with the son of Starcraft having tried to sit down in the starting stalls at lead-up trials.
Jockey Zac Purton reported Jing Jing Win was better behaved before the first start and the horse then showed further improvement before last week’s trial.
Last Sunday’s defeat of Pakistan Star showed just what weight and a ratings rise can do to even the most talented individual and a 12-point leap is substantial – Purton claiming one pound over to ride at 120 essentially making it a 13-point hike for Jing Jing Win.
Hall’s classy type jumps into Class Three and faces some opposition who also boast higher ambitions, most prominent among them John Size’s fellow 2017 Hong Kong Derby aspirant Love Shock (Joao Moreira).
Perhaps Love Shock, a massive son of Melbourne Cup winner Shocking, will need a run and more ground than Sunday’s 1,200m to show his best but don’t be surprised to see a big first-up effort.
Still, Love Shock has drawn 13 and Jing Jing Win six, and Size’s horse also has to give 10 pounds to his rival over a distance that seems more suitable to the less experienced horse.
The Caspar Fownes-trained sprinter Clever Spirit (Karis Teetan) is racing well and at a rating where he should breakthrough soon and he finds an ideal opportunity in the Zenith Handicap.
Clever Spirit seems well placed after the four-year-old came up with barrier three following a fast-finishing second last start behind upset winner Easy Touch.
The victor dominated from in front that day and Clever Spirit, taken back from a wide gate, ran what was by far the fastest final 400m sectional of the meeting in 22.05 seconds.
Admittedly that was at a meeting of questionable quality but Clever Spirit has won off a mark of 54 previously, after which Fownes unsuccessfully tried the gelding over a 1,400m and 1,000m at Sha Tin, and then 1,200m at Happy Valley.
There were a sprinkling of solid performances among those nine runs but also a drop to a mark to 48 to start this season, since bumped up to 49 for the runner-up effort, and that last start display was enough to show Clever Spirit should be winning soon.
The Piaget Excellent Handicap is a Class Four that looks open to a young type with upside to breakthrough, with Dragon Warrior (Moreira) and Spicy Kaka (Sam Clipperton) the two obvious candidates at their second race starts.
Perhaps Dragon Warrior was disappointing on debut when beaten into fourth as 2.3 favourite but judging by his flat finish to the race, Chris So Wai-yin’s four-year-old may not have appreciated sitting close to a hot speed.
Dragon Warrior should be better for the experience as he returns to the same 1,400m trip, while John Moore’s Spicy Kaka should have also benefitted from a first-up look around.
Spicy Kaka was running home for fourth in the same leader-dominated race as Clever Spirit and looked a horse that will benefit from a step up to 1,400m here.
A rare Class Two dirt race could contain some surprises but John Size-trained Eroico (Brett Prebble) looks particularly well weighted as he tries 1,200m on the surface for the first time.