Sheer weight of numbers should be enough for Joao Moreira to hold off his rivals in the Jockey Challenge at Sha Tin on Sunday with three of his rides likely to start pronounced favourites.
John Size’s debutant Conte, the Frankie Lor Fu-chuen-trained Midnite Promise and Tony Cruz’s Time Warp all look set to jump as stand-outs in their respective events.
Moreira is in first place in the Jockeys’ Championship with 26 wins after 18 meetings but is being pushed in the early part of the season by Zac Purton, who has 24 winners and has produced some sublime riding of his own.
The three-time champion could open that gap again with a bagful of winners, including three-year-old Conte in the Class Four Revlon Handicap (1,200m).
Conte has trialled impressively three times, including one particularly smart outing on October 17 when the monster sprinter matched motors with subsequent winner Pick Number One.
Weighing in at 1,279 pounds, Conte won’t be missed when he enters the parade ring and punters have zeroed in on him already as a banker for the day.
In the following race Moreira will be looking to build on his excellent record for Lor when Midnite Promise contests the Class Four Suisse Programme Handicap (1,800m). Moreira has five wins from six rides from the leading stable so far.
Midnite Promise would not only be Moreira’s first win for the trainer outside Class Five, but is his first ride outside the bottom grade for the stable.
Moreira rides Time Warp for the first time in the Group Three Sa Sa Ladies’ Purse following the four-year-old’s improvement over the past four starts.
Time Warp won his last three starts last term, including a comprehensive victory at the season finale.
The import was third first-up over an unsuitable 1,400m in the Group Three Celebration Cup and has trialled well for Moreira since then.
Purton has a long odds-on chance of his own to build around, with Hot King Prawn making his highly anticipated return in the Class Three L’Oreal Paris Handicap (1,000m).
Hot King Prawn won two-from-two last season, but both victories were in griffin races and the flying grey will need to take a step up if he is to stay competitive in the first part of his three-year-old campaign.
Karis Teetan bookends the meeting with two short-priced favourites with Alcari in the opening race and Fifty Fifty in the last.
The Mauritian was rated a $5 chance of upsetting the top two, with Moreira opening a $1.75 top pick and Zac Purton $4.