Chris So Wai-yin’s championship credentials go on the line on Saturday at Sha Tin when three talented prospects make their debuts and hulking sprinter Bravo Watchman returns second-up.
So finished fourth in the trainers’ championship last term with a career-best 56 winners and sits second in the standings with 13 winners from 19 meetings so far this term.
Despite last season’s success, So was able to keep many of his younger talents in cotton wool, giving them time to develop away from the races as older horses took the load.
But if So is to take the next step from fringe top-five player to genuine championship contender then he will need those unraced horses to fire when they finally get to the races.
Gouten Of Garo, Eighty Eighty and Smart Charade all make their debuts after impressive trials while Bravo Watchman was three-from-three last season and was a gutsy second first-up this campaign.
All four horses will be ridden by Joao Moreira, provided the Brazilian is passed by a Jockey Club doctor after missing Wednesday night’s Happy Valley meeting through injury.
Moreira said on Wednesday he was “still very sore” after his fall at Flemington on Tuesday but expected to be able to take his place on Saturday and no standby riders were named for his bookings.
Of So’s debutants, perhaps Gouten Of Garo looks the most advanced in terms of fitness and the four-year-old heads to the races after six trials since arriving and a further four trials in New Zealand.
Gouten Of Garo’s best trials have been up the straight and that’s where So has set the gelding to debut in a 1,000m Class Four.
Moreira should be able to fire across from barrier six to be near the outside rail on a horse that has shown an abundance of early speed.
Rival Tourbillon King (Vincent Ho Chak-yiu) is edging closer to a win while it is crunch time for Travel Emperor (Nash Rawiller), who drops back into Class Four after three Class Three failures to start the season.
A wide barrier will be the challenge for Moreira on Eighty Eighty after drawing gate 12 of 14 in a 1,200m Class Four.
Eighty Eighty has settled back and stormed home under a hold in his trials so expect Moreira to try and find a one-off spot around midfield on the A course.
Drawn widest is another smart-looking type in Sparkling Dragon (Sam Clipperton), who heads to the races after two excellent trials for first-season trainer Michael Freedman.
The race also features three last start winners including David Hall’s Lucky Time, a horse who should benefit from a step up in trip and gets seven pounds off courtesy off Matthew Poon Ming-fai’s claim.
Smart Charade might be the one that needs more time, being a northern hemisphere-bred three-year-old by Fastnet Rock bought from this year’s Hong Kong International Sale for HK$3.2 million.
So has wisely taken his time with Smart Charade, giving him plenty of groundwork and four trials in total.
Smart Charade will start off over 1,400m in Class Four and is also likely to be taken back from the wide draw after settling back and getting home nicely in a trial for Moreira.
The race contains two other first starts including the Tony Cruz-trained Beauty Day (Matthew Chadwick), who is still green but showed some good signs in his two most recent trials.
Bravo Watchman put himself on many “horses to watch” lists last term with three impressive efforts as a three-year-old that pushed his rating to 75.
Jumping from barrier 14 first-up, Moreira made a half play to go forward before settling three-wide with cover and lost no admirers when finishing a length away from Jing Jing Win.
Bravo Watchman resumed at 1,234 pounds and whatever the scales show this time, he will strip fitter for that run and another barrier trial on October 31.