Ever since he began to race in Hong Kong, the John Size-trained Western Express has threatened to make it to the upper echelon and Sunday’s Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy (1,600m) should provide him with the right opportunity to prove he is worthy of that regard.
Western Express (Joao Moreira) was unbeaten in Australia before an impressive win at his Hong Kong debut almost a year ago in Class Three and progressed to the four-year-old series races, where champion rider Ryan Moore declared him too immature to be competitive.
So Size took the handsome son of Encosta De Lago back to working through his grades and Western Express polished off two nice Class Two wins in March and April before having some excuses when beaten at his final run as a four-year-old.
First-up this season, he had to cope with a slippery track and some minor interference behind Beauty Generation over 1,400m, finishing in what was, on face value, a disappointing midfield position.
However, it has long been held that Size’s horses improve for racing, Western Express has had a trial since to ensure that process and he returns to a firm track.
As he did when well-supported behind Beauty Generation, Western Express has the benefit of a light handicap – as he should considering the resumes of some of the runners here – and it is now that he needs to put his hand up if he is to qualify for the international events in seven weeks.
That factor is not to be underrated – horses like Western Express or Booming Delight (Karis Teetan) or Jolly Banner (Chad Schofield) need to do well to lift their ratings with a view to selection on international day so this is, if not a grand final for them then certainly a preliminary final. Some others who are already booked for international day do not have the same imperatives.
The race shapes as moderately run, like the 1,400m Celebration Cup was with many of the same personnel, and expect Western Express to be behind the speed but in the first half of the field where he can make his handicap count.
Winner’s Way did not take up the running as expected first-up but handed up to Beauty Generation (Derek Leung Ka-chun) but he probably won’t do that again and his best wins have been from in front.
The high-class gallopers at the top of the weights, Beauty Only (Zac Purton), Helene Paragon, Werther, Joyful Trinity and Secret Weapon, all have the tempo against them here as well as the handicaps, and, in most cases, also have race fitness working against them too, so their tasks won’t be easy.