David Hall has been generous with allowing in-demand apprentice Matthew Poon Ming-fai to take rides outside the stable so far, but the trainer will make the most of the youngster’s deadly dirt strike rate at Sha Tin on Wednesday night.
Poon is indentured to Hall and as such the Australian gets first call on the services of the relatively accomplished apprentice and his valuable 10-pound claim.
Hall hasn’t been greedy though, with Poon riding two wins for Hall from 14 rides so far, out of an impressive total record of eight from 49.
Poon, who is yet to be licensed to compete at Happy Valley, has had at least one winner at the six meetings he has ridden at so far, but by far his most successful surface by strike rate has been the dirt.
The Poon Train scored his first winner on the all-weather track, steering Happy Meteor to victory, and has ridden three more since for an overall record of four from 10.
Perhaps Hall has taken note, or maybe it is just coincidence, but the astute handler has booked Poon for five rides on the eight-race card, including chances Cape The Faith, Bolshoi Ballet and Solar Hei Hei.
Even Kirov and Apollo’s Choice have some claims despite recent poor showings in what could be a solid night for the partnership.
Poon has already ridden Cape The Faith to a third at 68-1 on the dirt two starts back, the horse’s only effort on the inner track so far and despite a tricky gate, the Class Four Kiu Tsui Handicap (1,650m) looks a suitable target.
Cape The Faith was beaten a long way on the turf over a mile last start, but there was enough in his last try on the dirt to suggest that is where the gelding can crack it for a long-awaited win.
Similarly, Bolshoi Ballet is an import yet to win since arriving in Hong Kong, but might find salvation in the more forgiving dirt and its less competitive racing.
Unlike his stablemate, Bolshoi Ballet gets a kind draw in Class Four Hap Mun Bay Handicap (1,200m) and the four-year-old should win if runs up to his best form.
Bolshoi Ballet went within a short-head of winning a similar race three starts back, before drawing wide and ridden for luck at his next start on the surface.
Of course, Bolshoi Ballet received very little luck, with Zac Purton blocked for a run all the way to the line, but this time Poon should have the gelding on the pace and out of harm’s way.
It isn’t a straightforward Class Four, but Bolshoi Ballet’s cause is helped by some key rivals drawing out, including Everest (Joao Moreira) and Born Dragon (Karis Teetan).
Solar Hei Hei had carved out a decent record over a range of distances on turf before this season but had also probably reached his ratings ceiling.
Solar Hei Hei went close earlier in the term, and has been reasonable since too, but a switch of surface, decent draw and Poon’s claim might be enough to see the gelding run a cheeky race in the Class Two Cafeteria Handicap (1,650m).
A drop in grade looks crucial for Apollo’s Choice as the six-year-old comes back to the all-weather in the Class Three Clear Water Bay Handicap (1,650m).
A little over a year ago Apollo’s Choice started 3.1 favourite in the Hong Kong Macau Trophy at Sha Tin and ran on well to be beaten less than three lengths by Dashing Fellow.
Even though the gelding’s recent form doesn’t look good on paper, some improvement wouldn’t surprise here.