Joao Moreira’s suspensions are keeping the jockeys’ championship close and the Brazilian will be banking on on-pace runners like Mister Monte on Wednesday night to build on his lead over Zac Purton in the title chase.
Moreira had two wins on Sunday but Purton rode three to edge closer and narrow the lead to seven, 55 wins to 48.
Injury and suspensions have eaten into Moreira’s numbers, with the three-time defending champion missing seven of the 36 meetings so far and Purton just two.
Another two-day ban starting on Saturday at Sha Tin gives Purton some more “free kicks” so Moreira will be hoping for a big midweek haul at Happy Valley.
Mister Monte’s dominant last start win at the city venue may have been assisted by a leader-biased track but it was impressive nonetheless.
The Tony Cruz-trained four-year-old copped nine points for the easy victory but returns to the same course and distance in the Class Three Cleveland Handicap (1,650m).
The biggest threat could be Purton’s mount Dr Win Win, who meets his rival nine pounds better off after finishing runner-up and drops from barrier 11 to one.
Dr Win Win had to work overtime from the wide draw to sit outside Mister Monte last time. On Wednesday Purton is likely to be sitting in the box seat on the B course and waiting to swoop in the straight.
Last start winner Winning Faith is also a chance, with the four-year-old finding form this season and looking like he has some points in hand.
Moreira also rides two Chris So Wai-yin-trained sprinters that will take up positions close to the lead, Exceptional Desire and Bravo Watchman.
Exceptional Desire won last time Moreira was aboard in October, has raced well in three races since and now draws another low gate in the second section of the Class Four Great George Handicap (1,200m).
Last time out, Exceptional Desire drew Pierre-Charles Boudot in the International Jockeys’ Championship and the French rider not only missed the start, but seemed to have some difficulty getting the four-year-old around the turn and was warned by stewards for not showing sufficient vigour over the concluding stages.
Adding some confidence to Exceptional Desire’s case is a front-running trial win under Eddy Lai Wai-ming at Happy Valley on December 30 in which the horse jumped well and tracked beautifully around the cones.
Clearly, Exceptional Desire is a better horse out in front with a rail to follow and if Moreira can get a clean jump and find the fence early then So’s talented galloper should be able to win again.
Moreira faces a trickier scenario at the start on Bravo Watchman, with the big gelding drawing awkwardly in barrier seven for the Class Two Cannon Handicap (1,200m).
Bravo Watchman was nominated as a horse to follow by many good judges after winning three-from-three last season as a three-year-old.
The sprinter climbs into Class Two after being beaten by a length, a head and a neck at his three starts this time in and heads to Happy Valley for the first time.
Bravo Watchman faces a hot field that includes a host of Valley specialists but the son of Congrats did trial well at the track on the same day as his stablemate.
Also trialling well for Moreira that day was Encore Boy ahead of the sprinter’s first start at the city track.
Encore Boy has missed the start in the past, but led all the way in his 1,000m trial and now Moreira must now navigate his way over to a forward position from barrier 11 in the Class Three Causeway Handicap (1,000m).
Trainer Ricky Yiu Poon-fai was basically at a loss to explain Encore Boy’s first-up flop but did say he hoped the horse would improve with racing.
Perhaps Moreira’s most intriguing runner of the night is Nashashuk, racing for the first time this season after being disqualified for a positive swab in June.
The penalty was the result of an accidental contamination by stable staff and Nashashuk did not receive a ratings increase after finishing ahead of two subsequent winners, Fox Sunter and Phantom Falcon.
Nashashuk has trialled five times this term and has drawn barrier one in the first section of the Class Four Great George Handicap (1,200m).