Race-fit and well drawn, Starlight should kick off what could be a big night for apprentice Matthew Poon Ming-fai when Dennis Yip Chor-hong’s sprinter contests the opening race at Happy Valley on Wednesday night.
Starlight was a fast-finishing third at the opening Valley meeting of the season and returns one week later with the benefit of Poon’s seven-pound claim and a much better draw than recent starts.
Jockey Nash Rawiller was forced to take Starlight back from a wide gate last week, then rode for luck through the middle stages in an effort to steal ground along the fence.
The tactic worked, at least until it came time to sprint, and the five-year-old didn’t see daylight until the 200m mark, with Rawiller jagging to the outside to find space, after which the Starlight rattled home.
Starlight clocked 22.76 seconds for his final 400 metres, not bad considering he had 131 pounds on his back, it wasn’t all in a straight line and only three horses on the night ran faster final splits.
Drawn barrier three in the first section of the Class Four Chicago Handicap (1,200m), Starlight shouldn’t have as much to do on the B course, the good gate snapping a succession of wide draws for the gelding.
After Starlight broke through for a first career win in May, the son of Red Element drew double figures for four straight starts to close out the season.
The luckless run didn’t stop Starlight from winning again, but it did mean his jockeys were hampered tactically, with Yip’s horse held hostage to the tempo at the tricky track.
Starlight isn’t necessarily slow away, and with just eight runners and only one outright leader, Winfull Patrol, Poon is likely to be spotting the front-runners less of a start than his most recent runs.
Poon’s claim also looks key, taking the edge off the 133-pound impost Starlight would have carried otherwise.
The “Poon Train” has rides in seven of the eight races, including E-Super in the night’s feature, the Class Three Fakei Cup (1,000m).
E-Super is another that looks in need of Poon’s claim and although the six-year-old has proven difficult to ride at the track previously, gate one will help and he comes off an eye-catching recent trial.
Poon also partners Good Companion, with the Derek Cruz-trained sprinter coming out of the same race as Starlight last week, but drawn to contest the second section of the Chicago Handicap.
Good Companion is racing honestly but seems stuck on his mark and needs the type of help Poon’s claim can provide at the handicaps.
The trouble is the draw (nine), with the David Ferarris-trained London City a likely favourite after coming up with a gate (three) that could allow Karis Teetan to dictate proceedings from up on the speed.
Jockey Zac Purton’s season should also click into gear on Wednesday night, with the Australian booked to ride some strong chances including Dr Listening in the Class Two Washington D.C. Handicap (1,650m).
Dr Listening was an impressive winner at his third run after a stable transfer to David Hall, for which the then four-year-old copped a significant nine-point hike in the handicaps.
That win was also over 1,800m and there are a few question marks here for a horse high in the market, one being a wide draw that means Dr Listening will be spotting the leaders a big margin.
Purton could finish the card strongly, with interesting rides on Litterateur in the Class Three San Antonio Handicap (1,650m) and Dollar Reward in the Class Three San Francisco Handicap (1,200m).