Caspar Fownes is well on his way to reclaiming his coveted “King of the Valley” status and sprinter Clever Spirit can add another Happy Valley victory to his trainer’s tally in the Sports Road Handicap.
Fownes had a mostly forgettable campaign in 2015-16 but has bounced back this term and is not only in contention for the trainers’ championship at the halfway point of the season, but has the most wins at the city track.
There is no official prize for winning most races at Happy Valley but Fownes prides himself on achieving the feat anyway and in the 43 meetings so far this season he has saddled up 21 of his 32 winners at the smaller track.
Only four of those wins have come since the start of December but Clever Spirit (Karis Teetan) returns to the track for the first time since late last season and looks a great chance in a 1,200m Class Four.
After winning second-up over the same course and distance second-up last season, Clever Spirit was inconsistent for the next nine months.
Clever Spirit has raced four times at Sha Tin this season with mixed results; first-up he was never a factor in an on-pace dominated race, but the five-year-old ran solid seconds at his next two starts.
In the second of those two runs Clever Spirit ran into plunge horse Happy Agility, who has continued to race well since, winning at his next start and placing behind some handy types.
Last start, back in November, Clever Spirit drew wide again and was slow away before racing very wide on the turn and finishing off well over 1,400m.
It’s the let-up, work and trials since then that add some confidence to Clever Spirit’s claims though, with both barrier trials giving the impression of a happy and healthy horse.
Barrier five is another positive, although Clever Spirit is a horse that seems to race best running on from the rear of the field and Teetan is likely to at least try and be midfield or better on the B course.
The immediate speed in the race will come from the outside gate, with Circuit King (Joao Moreira) drawn 12, while last-start winner Powermax (Neil Callan) will also be aggressive from gate two.
In fact, they look the top three in the race although a case could be made for Cour Valant (Derek Leung Ka-chun), who should get a suitable trail from barrier one.
Fownes also sends around one of the most intriguing runners later in the night when Premium Champion drops to a career low rating and into Class Four for the first time.
The trainer has put blinkers back on the six-year-old and booked Moreira for the Craigengower Cricket Club Challenge Cup, a 2,200m race that looks like a real lottery that could come down to tactics.
The kicker for Premium Champion is the eye-catching trial he put in just three days after the dirt failure, cruising to the line with the blinkers on in a 1,700m heat.
Moreira has another great chance when he teams for a rare opportunity with Dennis Yip Chor-hong’s Flying Force in the Wong Nai Chung Handicap.
The record-breaking Brazilian jockey has ridden at least one winner for every trainer at Sha Tin during his 500-win, three-year tour de force, but surprisingly hasn’t had great success for Yip.
Since starting in 2013, Moreira has had just five wins for the trainer, and just one this season, but
Flying Force should start favourite after coming up with a perfect draw.
Flying Force hasn’t been far away in five starts this time in, but Moreira is still the only jockey to have won on the five-year-old, scoring a narrow victory over Malmsteen at Sha Tin in May.
There was a lot to like about Flying Force’s third under Moreira last start, with the grey forced to work hard to find the lead from barrier 12 before finishing behind Hang’s Decision and Momentum Lucky.
Paul O’Sullivan’s three-year-old Grade One (Zac Purton) looks a progressive-enough type and should have strong support in the Sports Road Handicap.
Grade One was narrowly defeated on the dirt last start on debut, but watch out for Danny Shum Chap-shing’s G-One Lover (Alexis Badel) returning after a long lay-off.
G-One Lover hasn’t raced since a short-head second to Nitro Express in June, with a chronic tendon injury sidelining the five-year-old since then.
The form around G-One Lover has stacked up with Nitro Express winning twice since then and Molly’s Jade Star also winning two this term.
Even though G-One Lover hasn’t trialled in the lead-up, his work has been good and the horse looks well.