Gran Master was edging towards a win late last season and should begin a progression through the grades when he resumes in the Class Three Shrike Handicap (1,650m) on Saturday at Sha Tin.
Selected as one of the Post’s 10 horses to follow in the preseason, Gran Master looks a dirt specialist in the making.
Even if Gran Master’s speciality means that opportunities will become more sparse the higher he climbs, for now the five-year-old looks a good thing off a mark of 53, especially with a few other factors in his favour.
Barrier three in a 10-horse field looks like giving Joao Moreira a simple enough task, with the Brazilian retaining the ride.
Gran Master’s solitary lead-up trial was terrific, it might not have showed on the clock as the track was a slushy wet-slow, but Moreira had the grey under wraps as he charged to the line.
It was a great sign considering Gran Master’s fourth and final run of his first campaign was a near disaster.
Not only did Gran Master scope with substantial blood in his trachea when unplaced as favourite on July 1, but struck himself and was galloped on during the race, suffering cuts to his right front and both hind legs.
Trainer Peter Ho Leung backed off and Gran Master was benched for the remainder of the term and the time off seems to have benefited the son of Mastercraftsman greatly.
Adding extra confidence to Gran Master’s cause is Moreira’s deadly strike rate when riding for Ho.
The Moreira-Ho combo was one that started on the Brazilian’s first ever night of riding in Hong Kong, with the Magic Man riding two winners for the trainer, both in legs of the 2012 International Jockeys Challenge to give him the title.
Moreira’s 42 per cent strike rate for the trainer is his highest for any handler at Sha Tin, outside of Frankie Lor Fu-chuen, for whom he has two wins from just two rides so far.
Gran Master is likely to start a short-priced favourite, and rightly so given the amount of ratings points he seems to have in hand, but there are some others to watch in the race.
Good Fit (Tommy Berry) has a good record on the surface, winning twice over the course and distance last season for former trainer Michael Chang Chun-wai.
Now with freshman sensation Lor, Good Fit’s last trial on the dirt indicates he might have a little improvement in him as well.
In the only other dirt race on the card, the Class Five Lark Handicap (1,650m), a low draw and an encouraging first-up run makes Amritsaria (Brett Prebble) the one to beat.
If Amritsaria jumps clean, he should be able hold a prominent spot and is the type of horse that can maintain a solid gallop throughout.
Prebble may have to play some cat-and-mouse tactics with the two seven-pound claiming apprentices drawn to ride chances, with Matthew Poon Ming-fai on Jimson The Famous and Dylan Mo Hin-tung on Happy Beauty sure to surge forward.
Diamond Friends will attract support courtesy of the aforementioned Moreira-Lor combination, but the obvious other danger in the race is Rhode Assassin (Neil Callan).