Michael Freedman has been true to his word with a patient approach in his first season but the tide is turning and he heads to Happy Valley on Wednesday night with a small but strong hand.
The Australian has had just 143 runners through 58 meetings – second least of any trainer – but has managed 10 wins at a reasonable strike rate of 6.99 per cent.
That win rate is better than high-profile trainers Tony Cruz and Caspar Fownes have managed this term, and Freedman should be able to find another gear now as the summer approaches.
Three of Freedman’s wins have come in March, including Elite Boy’s six-length win on Sunday at Sha Tin, and now Sparkling Dragon, Fortune Booth, Play Wise and Vara Pearl all head to the races with excellent chances.
“Things are definitely picking up as we move towards the end of the season,” Freedman said. “It has been a process for the first four or five months, just getting used to the place, it doesn’t matter how long you have been in the business, Hong Kong is different and I think it has just taken me a little bit of time to get familiar with everything.”
Not only has Freedman taken time to settle into training at Sha Tin but has also been gentle about the way he has progressed new horses, with classy three-year-old Sparkling Dragon a case in point.
Sparkling Dragon (Sam Clipperton) returns from a three-month break in the Class Three Hawthorn Handicap (1,200m) having finishing third as favourite in the Griffin Trophy.
Freedman said Sparkling Dragon had come through that run unscathed and the let-up was simply to allow the gelding time to develop.
“He did a good job winning his first two starts and then ran a good, solid race in the Griffin Trophy,” he said. “It’s his first season here and I thought it would be good to give him a bit of a breather. He has had a nice steady build up to this, I planned to give him two or three runs before now and the end of the season.”
Sparkling Dragon put together two nice 1,000m trials at the city track ahead of his return, the second an educational outing in which he showed an improved ability to relax off the speed.
“He looks quite comfortable going around there at the smaller track,” Freedman said. “I think it is a track that lends itself to riding him that way. He has drawn five, which is a nice enough gate for him to race like that as well.”
Fortune Booth (Derek Leung Ka-chun) has won twice in his first campaign to move to a rating of 87 and finds himself butting heads with some serious Valley sprint specialists in the Class Two Volunteers’ Challenge Cup (1,200m).
“That’s part of winning, the competition gets tougher,” Freedman said, adding that barrier four was a big boost to the four-year-old’s chances on the C + 3 course. “This is a step up, sure, but he has earned it. He seems to have an affinity with the track. From where he has drawn I think this is a race that could set up well for him.”
Everything went wrong for Play Wise (Chad Schofield) last start when Zac Purton went forward from a wide gate and although drawn out again, Freedman believes a step up in trip could be ideal in the Class Three Holly Handicap (1,800m).
“It was no fault of Zac’s last time,” Freedman said. “Sometimes things pan out going out of the straight for the first time and you end up box seat, but if they don’t work out you end up three wide facing the breeze and that is what happened. It was a forget run and he seems to have trained on well. He likes the track but I am looking forward to seeing him up at 1,800m.”
Vara Pearl (Jack Wong Ho-nam) could get the stable off to a flying start in the Class Five Briar Handicap (1,650m) as the seven-year-old shifts back from Sha Tin to the scene of all four of his career victories.