David Hall, Derek Cruz and Michael Freedman may be equal last in the trainers’ championship for now but they are doing better than the numbers suggest and the trio get a terrific opportunity to boost their bottom lines on Wednesday night.
The three trainers have seven wins each so far this season but Nuclear Power, Elusive State and Elite Boy all have a great chance of success at Sha Tin’s all-dirt meeting.
David Hall endured one of the unluckiest streaks by a trainer in recent memory when he went 146 starts and nearly four months without a winner – a sequence that included 12 seconds and a number of narrow “bad beats” where he was on the wrong side of a photo finish or jockey error clearly cost him victory.
With the losing streak ending two weeks ago and the impressive Mr Lumieres another winner in the book, Hall’s inordinate number of seconds (20 so far) should start turning into winners and Nuclear Power (Matthew Poon Ming-fai) looks the most likely tomorrow night in the Class Three Mut Wah Handicap (1,650m).
Nuclear Power had already proven himself adept on the dirt earlier this season in sprints, but a step up to the extended mile at his last two has seen him go very close.
A strong closing second on January 24 was followed by an unlucky third, beaten by a head, just over two weeks later.
The four-year-old now faces a solid Class Three field that includes some proven track specialists but he has the necessary upside to win off his mark and is helped by a kinder draw than last time out.
For Cruz, the issue has been a lack of firepower, he has just 23 horses in his stable including six that are unraced, and has had by far the least amount of runners of any trainer with just 105.
The lack of numbers hasn’t stopped the 63-year-old from compiling a better win strike rate (seven per cent) than his brother Tony or John Moore as he battles to avoid a potentially career-ending “show cause” meeting with the licensing committee in July.
True to form, Cruz has just one runner at the meeting, but Elusive State (Chad Schofield) looks well placed to go back-to-back in the Class Four Shui Wo Handicap (1,650m).
Elusive State had been unlucky in one way or another at all seven starts before finally breaking through on February 10 and received kind treatment from the handicapper – going up just five points.
Freedman has taken a slow and steady approach in his first term, sending the second fewest horses to the races, with just 121 runners.
The Australian was also affected by a terrible horse walker accident early in the season that resulted in the retirement of six horses.
It all contributed to the lack of wins but expect a strong back half of the season from the trainer as his young horses, like three-year-old Elite Boy, come to hand.
Blinkers look the key to helping Elite Boy (Tommy Berry) break through for Freedman at his third start after a couple of runner-up efforts.
A switch to the dirt brought about an excellent closing second to Winning Supreme – that form further franked when third-placed Navas scored an upset result at Happy Valley not long afterwards.
Elite Boy’s effort to finish second to dirt sprint specialist Startling Power last time out was excellent given the ground he was forced to cover in the run, but it is the gear change that could make all the difference in the Class Four Shing Yip Handicap (1,200m).
After travelling four wide and chasing all the way round the circle, Elite Boy never seemed balanced in the straight and Berry had a hard time keeping him on a straight line.
The blinkers should help iron that kink out and result in a more responsive sprint on his return to the same course and distance.