John Size and Frankie Lor Fu-chuen have hogged the headlines at the top of the trainers’ championship so far this season but former champion Dennis Yip Chor-hong has chipped his way to third place and heads to Happy Valley with some great chances on Wednesday night.
Size leads the way in the standings with 36 wins, ahead of Lor on 32, but Yip has been the quiet achiever and sits in outright third on 21 wins as the halfway mark of the 2017-18 campaign approaches.
Just as Yip did when he won his lone championship in 2012-13, the popular trainer local has made do with lower-ranked horses and it is his handicappers he will be relying on again, with Crown Avenue, Royal Mojito and Generous Heart all terrific winning hopes and all benefiting from better draws.
All of Yip’s wins this term have been in Class Three (eight wins), Four (12) and Five (one), with just seven of the trainer’s 233 starters in Class Two or above.
Crown Avenue (Umberto Rispoli) will be out to go back-to-back in the Class Four Connaught Handicap (1,800m) after an impressive last start victory over the course and distance.
Crown Avenue’s rating dropped from 68 down to 42 through 10 unplaced runs after arriving from Australia, but just as crucial to the ratings drop was a switch to the all-weather track.
Two season-ending wins over 1,800m on the dirt made it seem like Crown Avenue had found his niche on that surface but the last start performance at the Valley showed a step up in distance was just as important.
Last start over 1,800m at Happy Valley, Crown Avenue was taken back from a wide barrier by Rispoli and raced wide throughout as he put in a superior staying performance to his rivals.
There was rarely a stage in the race where Crown Avenue wasn’t either racing wide, inconvenienced or being ridden hard to chase down the leader and eventual winner, High Volatility.
After drawing barriers 11, 11 and 12 at his past three starts, Crown Avenue comes up with gate two, which gives Rispoli some more tactical options on the five-year-old.
While Crown Avenue’s lack of early speed has cost him at times, Chad Schofield has successfully placed the gelding closer to the pace previously and Rispoli won’t want to be spotting the leaders too much start.
Of course, 1,800m races at the tricky track can throw up some random tactics at times, with slow lead times motivating mid-race moves from the back of the field. Still, Rispoli will be in an ideal spot regardless on a horse that has a proven sustained sprint.
Yip also has a fantastic chance in the feature race with sprinter Royal Mojito in the Class Three Hong Kong Club Challenge Cup (1,200m).
Royal Mojito seems set for this race after some encouraging displays, a recent gear change and two lead-up trials.
After a couple of smart runs up the straight, including a run-on second to potential superstar Hot King Prawn, Yip went for cheek pieces and a step up to 1,400m for the four-year-old.
The gelding was a sound third behind talented four-year-old Conte, but a switch back to 1,200m at the smaller track looks more suitable.
Two excellent trials, including one at the Valley, has Royal Mojito looking primed for a return to the city course for the first time this season.
Barrier three is a bonus on the C”course against a strong-looking Class Three field.
Last time out, Yip’s Generous Heart (Zac Purton) ran into dead ends in the straight and returns to the same course and distance with a low draw in the Class Three Chater Handicap (1,650m).
Purton rode for luck on Generous Heart but just as he was building some momentum he found nothing but backsides in front of him over the closing stages.
It was a totally forget run and this time Generous Heart, who is finding form and his right rating, should be sitting in an ideal position.