Top French jockey Pierre-Charles Boudot has never had a ride at Happy Valley but has emerged as a popular choice to win the Longines International Jockeys’ Championship on Wednesday night after the ballot for mounts.

It is challenging but Boudot would not be the first – two years ago, South Africa’s Gavin Lerena was the only jockey in the 19-year history of the IJC to win the series without a prior ride at Happy Valley, landing wins on Mr Right and Superoi at his final two rides.

That was enough to clinch the title in the series which this year carries a total prize of HK$800,000, making it the richest prize in the world for a jockeys’ invitation series, and HK$500,000 of that for the winner.

Across four races, it is always a difficult mix to find in-form runners with barrier draws to suit around the tricky Valley circuit, as Hong Kong’s champion rider Joao Moreira was quick to summarise after seeing his draws, with Money Winner (gate five) the best of them in the first leg, but Fish N’ Chips (10), Curling Luxury (12) and Razor Quest (10) starting their races in Wong Nai Chung Road.

“It looks very even. I’m happy with my horses and I hope I can get the best out of them, but barriers are very important at Happy Valley and I don’t have the best barrier draws,” said Moreira, the 2012 IJC winner.

Derek Leung Ka-chun looks to have got the “visitor’s draw” in the series, with neither his rides nor his draws ideal, while Zac Purton, still looking for his first IJC win, was succinct after the draw – “it looks like I have some work to do”.

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Hong Kong’s fourth representative, Karis Teetan, has plucked some bad barriers but some worthwhile mounts in Richcity Fortune, Wah May Baby, Sangria and Kiram.

“It’s funny – it almost looks like a normal book of rides for me with Sangria and Kiram for David Ferraris, two horses I have already ridden this season,” Teetan said. “They are both nice rides but with tricky draws.”

Meanwhile, Boudot managed to collect three rides with good form – Mr Kool, Exceptional Desire and Bank On Red – with Exceptional Desire and Bank On Red landing good draws, which will be critical to the winning of the series.

Ryan Moore, a dual IJC winner in 2009 and 2010, looks certain to prove a major force again, with Forever Posh and Speedy Wally chances with good draws and Flying Quest and Dr Race not drawn ideally but certainly point-scoring chances for the champion Briton.

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Japan’s Keita Tosaki, who produced one of the rides of last season to win an IJC series leg for John Size on Big Bang Bong, will get the chance to repeat the dose, picking up Jolly Bountiful for the premier handler in the second leg, while he also has a frontline chance for David Hall on Godspeed in the third leg.

However, Tosaki also drew one of the Rubik’s Cube mounts of the night, with hard-pulling Litterateur a chance to win the final leg of the series if Tosaki can manage his manners, but the five-year-old has a history of getting the better of his jockeys as often as they get the better of him.

Last year’s winner, and the 2017 Longines World’s Best Jockey Award winner, Hugh Bowman, will need to bring his wand and work some magic to make it back-to-back victories, with Smart Baby (gate 11), Dr Proactive (four), Sparkling Sword (eight) all looking tested, although he appears to have a shout with the Tony Cruz-trained Bullish Smart (seven) in the final leg.