Joao Moreira’s imminent departure and the radical overhaul of the jockey roster puts a different spin on the remainder of this season for those with designs on moving up the pecking order and perhaps even linking with powerhouse trainer John Size.
Not only is Moreira leaving for Japan, Nash Rawiller has been banished and veterans Brett Prebble and Olivier Doleuze will not return for the 2018-19 season.
That leaves more than 200 wins on the table, including a host of big-race opportunities and the question of who will fill the role of Size’s go-to man.
Size has formed the backbone of Moreira’s support during his record-breaking reign at Sha Tin, with 197 of the Brazilian’s 706 wins – nearly 28 per cent – provided by the champion Australian trainer.
This season the percentage has been even higher with 41 per cent (51 of 123) of the Magic Man’s winners provided by Size.
Before Moreira’s arrival it was 13-time champion Douglas Whyte who benefited most via a strong association with the top stable as the so-called “Dream Team” dominated.
Perhaps Size will utilise champion-in-waiting Zac Purton more but there are still likely to be more chances there, especially down in the weights, and the suitors are circling.
Chad Schofield gets a golden opportunity to audition aboard Size’s progressive three-year-old Raging Storm, with Moreira jumping off after back-to-back wins and opting to ride rival Mission Tycoon in the Class Two Hong Kong Reunification Cup (1,200m).
“I’ve been riding Raging Storm, a horse coming up in class and he’s a horse I respect very much but I had to choose one and I was pretty much already booked to ride Mission Tycoon. Honestly, it could go either way,” Moreira said of his decision to stick with Frankie Lor Fu-chuen’s three-year-old.
After being hit hard with suspensions during the past two seasons, Schofield has stayed out of the stewards room this campaign and quietly crept up the ranks.
Schofield was ninth last term with 31 wins and is currently fourth among active riders this season with 38.
Raging Storm will be Schofield’s third ride for Size this season and just 15th overall since arriving full-time in 2015.
Just ahead of Schofield in the jockeys’ championship is Karis Teetan, a more regular pinch-hitter for Size, and given his lightweight status an obvious beneficiary of Moreira’s decision to leave.
Then there are hungry Italians Umberto Rispoli and Alberto Sanna, both of whom have carved out solid support bases, Australian Sam Clipperton and plucky Irishman Neil Callan along with the mostly lightweight local riders.
Rispoli has had a solid 27-win campaign and heads to Sha Tin with seven rides including Cruising in the Class Three Guangdong-Hong Kong Cup (1,200m).
The race includes five first starters but Cruising has the benefit of a run at Sha Tin and a good one at that, with the Australian import losing by a nose.
“I think the inexperience cost him last time,” Rispoli said. “We went head-to-head with Alcari for about 200m and with more experience he probably would have won that race. He will have improved for that.
“He nearly got it. It was his first time in Hong Kong and he responded very well, he showed nice gate speed and he got beaten by a decent horse.”