Anybody who witnessed Dylan Mo Hin-tung’s early rides in his rookie campaign would have had him at long odds to win the Tony Cruz Award for leading local rider but with two major rivals sidelined the 23-year-old can make a play for the prestigious honour at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Mo heads into the 10-race card with 23 winners, just two behind Derek Leung Ka-chun and three ahead of fellow apprentices Matthew Poon Ming-fai and Kei Chiong Ka-kei.
Chiong returns from a long suspension on Sunday, albeit after riding in a female jockeys’ series in Sweden this week, but Leung is out for the season after undergoing surgery last weekend and Poon will sit out the next two meetings due to suspension.
Even though Mo started the season slowly, riding just one winner from his first 111 rides, a breakthrough double in mid-March turned everything around.
As the weather has warmed up, so has Mo and he has got hot in summer, riding nine winners and 11 minor placings from 43 rides since the start of June.
Now Mo gets his chance to sneak closer to Leung in the standings and away from Poon and Chiong with nine rides on Sunday.
Admittedly, it’s a mixed bag for the seven-pound claimer and his chances were dealt a blow with some tricky gates, but his best hope, Star Superior, drops back to an inside draw.
Second at his past two over the course and distance, Star Superior seems to have turned things around on the dirt and is the one to beat in the Class Four Pok Fu Lam Riding School Handicap (1,200m).
Two starts back Star Superior was gunned down by Goldie Flanker, but finished a length and a half clear of his next rival.
Last start Mo jumped on and Star Superior ran into a rampant Strathclyde, a horse who seemed to have a few points in hand against Class Four opposition.
Of course, barrier one isn’t necessarily a blessing on the 1,200m course, and sometimes it can be a major hindrance, especially for a horse like Star Superior, who seems to need time to wind up and maintain momentum.
Still, the four-year-old is headed in the right direction ratings-wise and a win to Star Superior would certainly be welcomed by his trainer Michael Chang Chun-wai.
Chang has had a below par season by his standards but needs just one more win to reach the minimum benchmark required to avoid a strike, three of which result in a show cause hearing.
Mo also continues his association with Fish N’ Chips, the sprinter switching back to what might be his best course and distance in the Class Four Lei Yue Mun Public Riding School Handicap (1,000m).
Two of Fish N’ Chips’ three career wins have come up the straight and the six-year-old has a consistent record over the specialist trip.
It is a tricky race but with some of the contenders like Zero Hedge (Sam Clipperton) and Winfull Patrol (Vincent Ho Chak-yiu) drawn awkwardly, maybe Fish N’ Chips can spring an upset.
On what is for the most part a typically low key late season card, the later races in the day do still hold some interest, particularly the Class Four Pok Fu Lam Country Park Handicap (2,000m).
John Moore sends three horses around in a competitive middle distance contest, including 2018 BMW Hong Kong Derby hopeful Rocketeer (Douglas Whyte), Helene Charisma (Zac Purton) and Basic Trilogy (Ho).
In the Class Three Lei Yue Min Park Handicap (1,400m), Purton gets his chance on the unlucky three-year-old Regency Bo Bo.
After two early season wins Regency Bo Bo’s tendency to miss the start contributed to him finishing second in five of his next eight starts.
Now Purton gets on board a start after the gelding was caught up in interference caused by a riderless horse last start.