Much has been made of Joao Moreira’s “form slump” this season, and statistically he has struggled at Happy Valley, but he can begin to turn his poor record at the track around on Wednesday night with a book full of strong chances, including Manful Star in the Class Four Bellflower Handicap (1,200m).
Moreira leads the jockeys’ championship with 41 wins after a double on international day but at the Valley his strike rate has been noticeably low.
The Brazilian has ridden 10 winners from 79 rides at 13 per cent when competing at the city circuit (including three last week), compared to 23 per cent on the Sha Tin turf and 25 per cent on the all-weather track.
Moreira’s strike rate at Happy Valley since first riding at the track in 2010 is above 20 per cent so the current lull might just mean the statistics are about to swing around and take a major correction.
It certainly looks the type of night it could happen with Moreira booked to ride a host of top chances, including four that have drawn ideal gates on the tricky C course.
Manful Star is top of the list after coming up with gate one in a race that should play out ideally for the sprinter.
The six-year-old missed much of last season after treatment for a left front knee injury but seems to have shaken off his soundness issues with a series of solid runs.
Manful Star returned with a third up the Sha Tin straight behind two subsequent winners London Master and Exceptional Desire that signalled he would be winning soon.
Then Manful Star broke through on October 5 with a convincing victory in a race that contained five subsequent winners including runner-up Love Chunghwa, third-placed Cheerfuljet, Our Hero, Phantom Falcon and Sky Treasure.
Ricky Yiu Poon-fai’s gelding has continued to race well, finishing fifth in a race where he was hampered late behind Exceptional Desire and then when a fast-finishing fourth last time out with Moreira aboard.
Not much went right for Moreira a month ago; you will be hard pressed to find a horse who has travelled through the first turn of the 1,200m wider than Manful Star did that night.
Moreira had tried to go forward from barrier 11 and although he ended up finding a two-wide spot, he had used precious energy early.
Manful Star doesn’t have a sharp turn of foot and is a horse that needs to build his revs up with an unimpeded run in the straight and does his best work late. That is why Moreira having to check off heels with 200m to go hurt Manful Star just as much as burning fuel in the opening stages.
The way Manful Star hit the line once clear indicated he is ready to win again given the right set of circumstances – something he should get with a solid tempo with the rail out and ideal box seat position in the run.
Dennis Yip Chor-hong’s Sam’s Love isn’t one of Moreira’s rides blessed with a low draw, he jumps from barrier eight in the Class Three Roselle Handicap (1,200m), but if afforded any type of cover this time he should figure in the placings
Sam’s Love never got into it as 3.3 second favourite behind Fantastic Eight but deserves another chance here.
The one to beat is the John Size-trained Gamechangers (Brett Prebble), after he ran on at big odds for second in the same race behind Fantastic Eight.
The popular Moreira-Frankie Lor Fu-chuen combination provides two chances with Midnite Promise the best hope in the feature race as he switches to the smaller track after four runs this season at Sha Tin.